City of Fernandina Beach informs public on airport tree mitigation

Andrew Holesko of Passero Associates leads airport tour

Submitted by

Dave Lott

Under a fog-covered, drizzly sky approximately eighteen citizens and City officials attended a ground tour of the City Airport on Tuesday, October 9.  The primary objective of the tour organized by City Manager Gerrity was to provide citizens with a better understanding of the tree mitigation project that will be undertaken to address the obstruction issues created by trees on Airport property and adjacent City-owned property.

In its 2012 Airport Safety Inspection, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) directed the City to immediately address the safety issues created by trees that extended into runway transitional airspace or face the possible loss of its license.  The FDOT recently awarded the City a grant in excess of $200,000 to assist in the Tree Mitigation Plan that will be added to grant funds from the FAA as part of the Runway 4/22 rehabilitation.  City officials attending were Mayor Arlene Filkoff, Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bunch, City Manager Joe Gerrity, Community Development Director Marshall McCrary as well as Manager Jeremiah Glisson (Maintenance – Fleet & Facilities) and Bobby Kozakoff (Airport Operations Specialist).

Andrew Holesko of Passero Associates served as the tour guide.  Passero has served as the City’s primary engineering consultant for the Airport and Andrew has been involved with all the City’s airport projects for more than a decade.  Andrew was assisted by his colleagues Dave Harris and Alexis Schmidt who will be involved in the tree mitigation project.  Early McCall, a certified arborist / forester who participated in the detailed tree survey program earlier this year, was also present.  Mr. McCall will remain active in the project with the responsibility of overseeing that the tree trimming and removal activities are conducted in accordance with the tree survey and Airport Tree Mitigation Plan.

The group was taken to each runway approach end where Andrew asked the participants to look around and see firsthand the trees that obviously represented some level of obstruction. Using a large scale photo map from the tree survey, Andrew identified the trees and areas that would be impacted by the mitigation program and answered questions from the group.  Andrew reiterated that the current project was only addressing trees on City property and the guiding principles were to minimize the number of trees to be removed and to save oaks where possible by trimming instead of removing.  He also told the group that no trees on private property would be addressed in this plan.  One citizen asked what will happen to the trees on private property if the FAA/FDOT come back and cite them for being obstructions.  City officials indicated that should that happen, the City would likely be willing to work with those property owners to defray/ absorb the costs of removing the obstructing trees; but such action was not anticipated at this point.

As expected, the greatest level of discussion and questions took place at the ends of Runway approaches 27 and 22.  The Runway 27 approach goes over the City golf course and the Runway 22 approach goes over the Simmons Cove subdivision and the City property in the northeast quadrant of the Amelia Island Parkway / S. 14th Street intersection.  Mr. Holesko noted that the change in appearance of these two areas would be the most noticeable due to the amount of trees to be removed and their proximity to the Parkway.  Regarding the Runway 27 approach, the mapping study identified approximately 70 obstructing trees with about half having to be removed as trimming was not an option due to the tree species or the tree’s probability to survive.  Mr. Holesko indicated that the trees along the golf course boundary in this section on Amelia Island Parkway would be removed and replaced with an attractive fencing and native species replanting.  He indicated that the Tree Mitigation Plan has been reviewed with the Golf Course’s Director and Superintendent and they understand the need for the removal/trimming that will take place and will be involved in the restoration plan to improve the appeal of the golf course by both its guests as well as travelers driving by the golf course along the Parkway.

The mitigation effort for the Runway 22 approach represents the largest area with approximately 225 trees identified as obstructions.  The majority of trees in this area that represent obstructions are natural slash pines approximately 40-45 years old.  Due to the concentration of pines, the City expects to harvest these trees to recover a large portion of its share of the matching grant funds.   Since the area also includes maple, live oaks, magnolia and gum trees the area will not be clear-cut; however the operation will require the use of heavy machinery and trucks in the area.  The area will be replanted with low growing native species.  The suggestion was made and endorsed by the group to create nature trails in this area.  City officials indicated this would be considered as part of the restoration effort that will follow the trimming/removal effort which is expected to be completed within the next 120 days.

October 10, 2012 5:19 a.m.