Commentary: Sidewalks vs. Trees Need Not Be a Conflict

This is an open letter from the Nassau County Sierra Executive Board to fellow stakeholders of the local environment:

If you have noticed the sidewalks being closed off by FDOT on Atlantic Avenue, you’ll realize that sidewalks closed to pedestrian use represent the fact that change is coming.
There are large live oaks on the corner of Eighth Street and Atlantic Avenue that are majestic trees and emblems of Southern culture. They have an importance to the heartbeat of our city. They are currently under threat.
These specimen trees have over 125 years under their belts. They drip with fuzzy tendrils of Spanish moss and estimates are that these trees were perhaps planted on or before the time the Episcopal Church was built (1893). They are a landmark of our community. So also, are the historic hexagonal pavers used for sidewalks that stretch the two blocks along the southern side of Atlantic Avenue from Eighth Street to 10th Street.
Since Atlantic Avenue is a State road, at this moment FDOT is responsible for the roadway and sidewalk. FDOT and the city are both concerned with the condition of these sections of sidewalk because there are significant trip hazards on both of these two city blocks.
FDOT is solely interested in economics or how to do the job as quickly and cheaply as possible. Any sidewalk replacement in this area is complex. These are historic sidewalks composed of the city’s original hexagonal pavers and they are lined with trees that have significant value due to their size and age.

Historically it would be a tragedy for the city to lose these original pavers because FDOT came in and replaced them with simple concrete sidewalks. A recent pavement historian was incredulous that all of these pavers could be lost because some of the pavers at Atlantic and 10th Street have only been documented in five U.S. cities. Equally significant and pressing is the impact that a sidewalk replacement represents for the historically significant live oak trees on the corner near the stop light.

Two years ago, the Nassau County Sierra Club discussed the impact of sidewalk replacement upon the specimen trees on the corner of Atlantic and Eighth Street with two master arborists.
Nassau County Sierra Club had partnered with the city’s Planning and Conservation Department to hire the master arborists from Advanced Tree Care, Inc., Chuck and Danny Lippi, to train the newly hired city arborist. During this 36-hour training, Sierra representatives and the newly hired city arborist, Dave Neville, walked the downtown area with Advanced Tree Care’s master arborists to analyze and evaluate city trees. The specimen trees along this two-block section of Atlantic Avenue were discussed several times during these surveys.
The Lippis pointed out that replacement of the heaving of the sidewalk pavers was going to cause a sidewalk/infrastructure conflict with the large root ball of the specimen trees on the corner. There was a lengthy discussion regarding how any disturbance of these tree’s roots by cutting into them in any way would result in the trees’ ultimate decline.
Advanced Tree Care provided all the necessary information to the city arborist to follow the International Society of Arboriculture, commonly known as ISA, accepted practices to “bridge” the tree’s root system instead of cutting when time came for sidewalk replacement. The bridging method discussed was designed to protect the longevity of these specimen trees which add so much ambience to our city.
Amelia Island’s trees are beloved by its residents and when problems arise, citizens expect action in regard to protection. We now understand that FDOT has said that they will not “bridge” the roots. Their suggestion of course is removal or cutting the root systems. The (acting) City Manager is currently waiting to receive a complete plan of action from FDOT.
Luckily there is an available engineering solution that not only balances the need for a trip-free walkway in the future but that could also signal the city’s ingenuity and a reasoned approach to situation management. The bridging of roots and adjacent root plate should and can be protected for the long-range health and protection of this tree.  
It’s time for both the city and the state of Florida Department of Transportation to follow the International Society of Arboriculture’s Handbook with its recommendations for protective tree care and to work to protect these culturally significant trees and the historic nature of our town. 
Nassau County Sierra requests that a coalition of concerned citizens, including the Tree Conservancy, Conserve Nassau, Keep Nassau Beautiful plus other environmental groups on the island, Main Street, the TDC, and even Aaron Bean if necessary with his Congressional pull to stand up for our hometown by protecting “all” aspects of our city’s historical ambience, sidewalks and trees.
Time is of the essence, and we do not want FDOT showing up and starting destruction without all possible avenues being explored. Time to activate the network.
Thank you so much,
Members of the Executive Board of the Nassau County Sierra Group
John Baker, Laura Kreger, Christine Bottka, Len Kreger, and Julie Ferreira
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Active Member
8 months ago

Thank you for the well written, informative article and the call to action.

Lyn Pannone
Trusted Member
Lyn Pannone(@lyn-pannone)
8 months ago

There is no reason they cannot do whatever is necessary to protect the historic trees. The trees give Atlantic Avenue and the whole island a special sense of place. And the historic pavers are part of what makes the city unique. If we continue destroying that which is historic we will be just like any other place. The trees and the pavers should be preserved. Not to mention all of the benefits that the trees provide, such as shade during this hot summer.

Alan Hopkins
Noble Member
Alan Hopkins(@dawaves)
8 months ago
Reply to  Lyn Pannone


Except for the first sentence I share your sentiment. You see there is reason for not doing what would be needed to be done to save the trees and the pavers. It’s called money.

Why in this open letter is there absolutely no discussion or mention of how much any of this will cost? Because any discussion of money out of your pocket will surely elimate aupoort for there cause. Very adisingenuous in my opinion and I am for saving both the trees and the pavers. Just tell the whole story and let your fellow citizens make up their own minds.

A responsible government spends the taxpayers money to enhance the lives of its citizens. This obviously falls under that category but at what cost?

Tammi Kosack
Trusted Member
Tammi Kosack(@tammi-kosack)
8 months ago

For anyone who may not understand or appreciate the importance of our old growth trees as well as our historic pavers and other streetscape elements like granite curbing, there was an excellent lecture at our museum by Historical Architect Dr. Robin Williams entitled “How Historic Pavements Contribute To Our Sense of Place.” He talks specifically about the highly unusual hex paver pattern near the tree mentioned in the article.

Being good stewards of our unique features not only preserves our history for posterity but it creates a subtle yet impactful contribution to our current ambience. These features may not be recognized right off the bat by all visitors or residents, but they add to the “Fernandina is such a special town” feeling.

The homogenization of our town will happen one bad decision at a time. Once something historic is gone, it is gone and lost forever.

Mark Tomes
Trusted Member
Mark Tomes(@mtomes)
8 months ago

Our state and federal agencies are starved for funding, which is done intentionally by the monied interests so that enforcement capabilities remain low (hence, the Republicans’ promise to cut the IRS budget, despite Biden’s promise there would no audits of those making under $600K/yr). 10% of U.S. citizens own more than 70% of U.S. assets, which makes a huge amount of us food insecure, lacking health care, in poor school districts, working full-time but not saving any money, etc. The major battle today is to tax the wealthy. All other battles, especially Republican-inspired fake culture wars, are distractions and diversions from this important work.

Noble Member
8 months ago
Reply to  Mark Tomes

Another tiresome Tomes partisan tirade. It reads like a Karl Marx manifesto. EVERY article or issue is used for him to attack organized religion, Republicans, City/County/State Government and those he deems to be “wealthy”. EVERYTHING. And please spare all of us about Biden’s “promises” about anything. I mean … seriously? That is a major giggle. That has about as much credibility as Bill Clinton’s claims of marital fidelity or Barack’s promise you can keep your doctor. Just stop. Your comments are really a “distraction and diversion” from the issue/battle at hand to protect the pavers and trees … and are not at all helpful.