City reforestation plan falls short of expectations

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
August 12, 2019 – 2:00 p.m.

City arborist Dave Holley

Fernandina Beach City Arborist Dave Holley presented a reforestation plan for the Fernandina Beach City Commission’s (FBCC) consideration at the FBCC’s August 6, 2019 Regular Meeting.  What Holley presented fell short of FBCC expectations, especially those of Commissioner Chip Ross.

Holley identified two areas of the city where a total of 92 trees could be planted for roughly $5,000:  52 at Hickory Street Park and 40 at the Peck Center.  He also announced plans for a giveaway of 300-400 saplings to city residents and an estimated 2,000 seedling giveaway at local schools.  Holley also announced a tree planting challenge to all city residents and businesses to be known as Fernandina Loves Trees.

“We want people to plant trees and tell us when they do it,” Holley said, indicating that the city is trying to maintain records of the number of trees removed and the number of trees planted.  He said that the goal is to plant 7,000 trees, the number of trees removed for one reason or another between 2014 and the current time.

Following Holley’s presentation, Commissioner Ross directed comments to City Manager Dale Martin.  He quoted language from the FBCC’s most recent visioning session that read:  a plan developed by an arborist and/or others to increase the city’s tree canopy by five percent no later than February 2024 will be presented to the City Commission by August 6, 2019.

Ross said, “What I’ve seen here tonight does not address this directive in any way.  It is suggestions.  What I was hoping for was a hard plan that would set out annual steps and costs to achieve the goal by 2024.  To be honest, I am disappointed in this [presentation].”

Commissioner Mike Lednovich echoed Ross’ comments to the City Manager, adding that $5,000 “is a pittance” toward achieving the goal.  He asked about raising the budget to $20,000 to preserve the city’s tree canopy.  He asked Holley if the city would plant 300-400 trees, would the city have the capacity to care for them.  

Holley replied that he would do his best.  “I want to see every tree we plant live.  I want to see mulch around it, no nicks in the bark.”  He said that during periods of drought there is a lot of work involved in keeping newly planted trees alive.  “If you fill the city’s parks up with trees, there’s no room for carnivals, baseball games.  That’s why I hope residents can plant some trees in their yards. … We can’t just plant 700 trees per acre like they do in reforesting timber lands.  We want usable space.”  He also cited issues with planting under utility wires in public spaces along roads.

Lednovich called for a plan for next year to increase the tree canopy by 1.2 percent and the associated costs to implement such a plan.

Mayor John Miller said that he understood that part of the problem is getting water to the trees that are located a distance from roads.  He suggested that the city procure a “water buffalo,” a portable water reservoir.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger agreed with Miller and also suggested reaching into the community for volunteers to help with the effort.

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