Gould Hagler, a 50-year resident of Augusta’s Forest Hills neighborhood, always thought the Darlington oaks that line the streets outside his Park Avenue home would outlive him.
Hagler, 89, is not so sure now about the 85-year-old trees.
Augusta traffic engineer Steve Cassell said Thursday that the city will cut down another Darlington oak in Forest Hills – at 3035 Park Ave. – for public safety reasons. It will be 30th tree the city has removed in the past three years from Forest Hills.
“I wish the tree could stay; I really do,” said Hagler, one of about 40 homeowners to sign a petition to save the oak. “It’s a shame we have lost so many trees so quickly, and that we’re going to lose some more. The residents here love the shade they provide and the beauty of their branches.”
Cassell’s decision followed two weeks of speculation that the oak’s life would be sacrificed for private development.
A notice saying the tree “interferes with the development of public property” appeared on the oak shortly after Jerry and Kimberly Lindman demolished a home overlooking the tree to build a larger and more modern house. Later, the document was changed to say the “tree is hazardous, i.e. contains decay, extensive deadwood or other structural problems.”
Cassell said he delayed demolition in order for a second arborist to confirm the oak is a “danger to the public or adjoining property,” criteria to be met to remove a tree on a public right of way.
Henry Frischknecht, a member of Augusta’s tree commission, inspected the tree. On Monday, he used a city bucket truck to get a closer look at its upper branches and cavities.
In an e-mail sent to Cassell on Tuesday, Frischknecht said the oak “has to be placed in the hazard tree category and should be removed” after he found a 2-foot cavity along the tree’s two major branch intersections.
The week before, arborists said that if untouched, the oak would last five to 10 years, but that the Lindmans’ planned circular driveway would cause 50 to 60 percent root loss and shorten the tree’s lifespan.
“It’s just deteriorated too far,” Cassell said. “There’s significant rot, especially in the branch section of the tree on the main trunk-line. Basically, the tree is hazardous.”
Cassell said he is scheduling the tree’s removal. Lindman declined comment.
According to Augusta’s ordinance, any tree deemed a danger to the public or adjoining property are exempt from a vote of removal by the tree commission and can be removed for safety reasons.
Cassell said the neighborhood can appeal to the Augusta Commission; however, he added, “once a hazardous tree is identified, there is a liability threat to the city.”
Forest Hills residents said they have not decided whether to appeal. Their district commissioner hinted that it might be possible.
“If they’re going to take the tree, the neighborhood may want to bring it to full commission,” Mary Davis said.