The Augusta Richmond County Commission agreed to accept a proposal by a local non-profit group to replace two trees missing from the ‘allée’ or walkway of trees at The Augusta Common and discussed the possibility of hiring a full-time arborist.
At the March 30 full commission meeting, Wright Montgomery spoke on behalf of Trees For Augusta, Inc. and said his organization was prepared to not only donate two fully mature willow oak trees worth around $3000, but also provide four hours of expert training to city employees to teach them how to care for the trees and how to install root barriers to keep the trees’ roots from harming paved or brick-lined walkways.
The offer comes on the heels of a push led by District 7 Commissioner Sean Frantom as well as the Parks and Recreation Department to have all of the willow oaks lining Augusta Common to be removed.
Frantom stated that the trees obscured the view, were non-native and that the roots were tearing up the walkways.
The plan to remove the trees was proposed at a March 18 joint meeting of the Augusta Tree Commission, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Planning and Zoning Department and the mere mention of the removal of all 14 trees on the Augusta Common was not received well.
In fact, the whole idea was struck from the table almost immediately.
“For a city that claims to be a Tree City USA, a ‘Garden City,’ for 250 years, for those who want to cut the guts out of our downtown beauty and shade, I simply fail to see the logic,” said Augusta Tree Commission Chairman Leroy Simkins.
In his presentation, Montgomery said all the trees at Augusta Common are healthy and that the original plans for the park was for it to extend from Broad Street all the way to the levee and would feature an ‘allée’ of trees like that of other famous parks throughout the world.
“This is a common feature for parks of this nature such as the Mall in Central Park and the (Jardin des) Tuileries in Paris and, closer to home, Forsythe Park in Savannah,” Montgomery said.
Rather than remove all the trees from the Common, Montgomery proposed the city allow his group to replace the trees that have already been removed and to aid the city further in preservation of the trees still there.
Montgomery’s presentation was met by a roar of applause from the gallery, and it was quickly accepted by the Augusta Commission with a unanimous vote.
Commissioners also discussed hiring a full-time arborist to aid in the maintenance of trees throughout the city.
According to Interim City Administrator Takiyah Douse, the city did have a certified arborist on staff at one time, but that was not his only job and he has since left employment with the city. Douse says that another employee is currently undergoing the training to become certified, but that employee is also not expected to be a full-time arborist once certified.
“It is possible we can have that particular requirement added or even change that job description, if that is your will,” Douse told commissioners.
The Commission agreed to give Douse more time to study the issue and come back to the body on April 12 with recommendations.
District 3 Commission Catherine McKnight says she was satisfied with the result of the meeting.
“We need a professional; we have so many old trees along the public roadways and in the medians. The really old ones can be dangerous during storms, so we need a professional to help us manage them,” McKnight said.