Originally created 07/11/98

Guard works to save dying trees



The National Guard has been called out to save the city's trees.

Two 6,000-gallon, camouflaged water trucks from the National Guard traveled down Central Avenue and Greene and Broad streets Friday, delivering water pumped from the Savannah River to thirsty oaks, elms and maples. The director of Augusta-Richmond County Trees and Landscape Department, Barry Smith, said city trees and bushes are "dying all over" and "in critical need of water."

Public parkways and boulevards are equipped with sprinkler systems, but the department has to comply with county water restrictions like everyone else, Mr. Smith said. The department has two water trucks -- one that holds 1,000 gallons and one that holds 500 -- but they weren't enough to nourish "devastated greenery" all over the city, he said.

Mr. Smith asked the National Guard Engineers on Milledge Road for help. Engineers there use water trucks to wet soil before compacting it and paving it over. The National Guard pledged two trucks and four men to water city greenery on Friday, today and Sunday.

"Part of our mission is to help the community," said Maj. Gerald House. "We know they've got a lot of money invested in those plants."

The city also has bought about 150 plastic bags that can continuously water a tree for two days. Called "tree gators," the green bags are tied to the base of a tree and hold 20 gallons of water, which seeps out through small holes in the bottom. They cost $17 each, and the city plans to rotate the bags around Wheeler Road, Walton Way, and Windsor Spring and Cumming roads.

Even with tree gators and the National Guard's help, Augusta's trees and flowering shrubs are in big trouble, Mr. Smith said. The city's famous azaleas are forming buds for the spring now, he said, but they won't flower next year unless they get water soon.

"We'd hate for the Garden City to be flowerless this spring for the Masters. We'll do anything we can to prevent that, and if it means calling the National Guard, well then, we'll do it again."

The department won't know how many shrubs and trees have died or lost buds until next spring, Mr. Smith said. Then officials will be able to fully assess the cost.

Meanwhile, one Augusta political hopeful has bought a 600-gallon truck of his own to help save residents' lawns -- and, he hopes, win some votes.

Republican Georgia House candidate Brad Owens said he's filling up his truck at the Savannah River for any voter in the 115th District, which stretches from Harrisburg and Country Club Hills west to the Summerville area and Gordon Highway. He's taking off work and will water lawns day and night, he said, for people who leave a name and number at 738-4307. The lawn watering is part of Mr. Owens' campaign against forming a state-appointed water authority.