Augusta’s shortcomings when it comes to inspecting and removing rotten and damaged trees could be setting the city up for a disaster, according to Roy Simkins, the city’s tree commission chairman.
The city has done a better job recently cutting down trees that pose a potential danger, but tree inspections are performed “haphazardly” and many more dead limbs or entire trees need to come down, Simkins said.
“We’ve had some disasters waiting to happen in Augusta,” he said.
On Thursday, a Savannah woman was awarded a $12 million judgment against the city for injuries suffered when a tree limb fell on her while riding in the passenger seat of a truck. In 2010, a live oak tree limb fell on Shanta Greene, 31, causing her to lose her right leg and pelvis as well as suffer related physical injuries and a brain injury.
Greene’s attorney, Howard Spiva, faulted the city with not taking care of Savannah’s trees, The Savannah Morning News reported.
The city’s attorney, Malcolm McKenzie, told jurors in the nine-day trial that the fallen tree was “an accident.”
The Savannah incident and lawsuit will hopefully add a greater sense of urgency to take down trees in Augusta, said traffic engineer Steve Cassell. The engineering department oversees tree removals on city right-of-ways.
“It’s a huge concern for us,” Cassell said. “Liability is always there when you are dealing with the government.”
The city needs a better management plan for assessing the health of trees, Cassell said. Many of the large oak trees in the city were planted in the early 1900s and are past their 90-year life span, he said.
Simkins said he routinely inspects trees across the city and many of them are at risk of dropping a limb or falling. The city needs a staff member that is dedicated to inspecting trees, he said.
Cassell said funding limits the number of trees that can be removed. In the past 18 months, the city has used $1 million from special purpose local option sales tax monies to remove trees, but more money is needed from the city’s general fund or the next SPLOST, he said.
Recent work addressing the most problematic trees helped during summer storms, Cassell said. No trees fell on the city’s right-of-ways.