Protest halts destruction of trees on Wilmington Island, at least for now

In college I was a member of a student organization that protested the removal of trees on campus. Unfortunately, the protest happened after the trees had already been cut down. Some local folks, however, got it right yesterday by arriving on the scene before the damage was done. Here’s a snip from a Savannah Morning News story:

With signs saying “Save our Trees,” they garnered supportive beeps and thumbs up from passing motorists. The cherry picker moved a few blocks away and then out of sight. By 2 p.m. the protesters figured the trees were safe for the day.

“People are proud of the canopy,” Heimes said. “The trees were grossly misshapen by (Georgia Power) but they are oak trees and they provide shade. If they start here, where will it end?”

The chain of events that preceded the protest can be found here.

But why were the trees cut? The safety of motorists was the cited concern, from the Savannah Morning News story:

County Commission Chairman Pete Liakakis said county engineers will look at the project again but added that the trees’ removal appears to be a traffic safety issue.

“We have to do the things we can to reduce any accidents,” he said. “This I’m told will keep any accidents from happening.”

Are Chairman Liakakis’ people telling him the truth? Perhaps not, according to Dr. Kathleen Wolf, a University of Washington professor who was in town last month for events sponsored by the Savannah Tree Foundation. From “Study Finds Transportation Policy Regarding Trees Outdated,” an article published in the academic journal Forestry Source in August 2006.

“In my opinion,the transportation policy in regard to trees is based on outdated information,” said Kathleen Wolf, a social sciences researcher at the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources and lead author of the study. “Studies [regarding the safety concerns of roadside trees] were conducted some decades ago in rural settings. But, according to the last census, nearly 80 percent of the US population now lives in urbanized areas.”

What difference does that make?

“Most of the tree crashes are occurring in rural areas and at high speeds,”she said. “The average crash speed involving trees is 52 miles per hour (mph), whereas the average speed in all crashes is 34 mph.” This is especially significant, Wolf added, in that most of the miles traveled in the United States are in urban areas.”

While it could be argued that Wilmington Island is not urban, it certainly isn’t rural. At any rate, if motorist safety is truly the goal, why not keep the trees and lower the speed limit?

This entry was posted in Advocacy, Conservation, Transportation on by .

About John Bennett

Transportation, land use, local farming and green building are all potential topics for Sustainable Savannah. The goal is to aggregate content about local events and projects, so there will be a central place to review everything that’s happening. The site is aimed at encouraging collaboration and information sharing between groups and individuals currently engaged in sustainability efforts. The site can also provide a snapshot of Savannah for green-minded people who are considering visiting or moving to the area.

5 thoughts on “Protest halts destruction of trees on Wilmington Island, at least for now

  1. Thomas

    Wait, why are they being cut down? Have accidents happened there often?

    I think this subject might be subjective. It all depends on how the tree is situated. If its creating a blind spot, cut it down.

    If the tree isn’t there, what are people going to crash into instead?

    BTW those ‘statistics’ aren’t commenting on a single thing.

  2. karen

    Blind spots are not relevant in this case, since the entrance into this property is at a traffic light, which should offer adequate traffic control. These are huge live oaks. They have no low limbs and there is no question of blind spots.

    The 2 trees in question are mature live oaks on the county right-of-way in front of a small lot. Most of Johnny Mercer Blvd. is covered with a canopy of live oaks. If every landowner of a similar-sized lot on Johnny Mercer decided to cut down 2 live oaks, there wouldn’t be a tree left on Johnny Mercer.

  3. Marianne Heimes

    I believe that Karen answered this correctly. This lot has been a forest since the beginning of time. The safety aspect is questionable as the site is provided ready-made access to what is now a 3 way traffic signal. There is another entrance/exit to be provided through the bank lot next door.

    All of Wilmington Island has become subject to accidents simply because planners allowed unbridled growth without taking a close look at the infrastructure. We are merely trying to look ahead in order to protect the canopy trees from whatever the planners decide to do.

  4. Karen Grainey

    I second Marianne Heime’s comment about poorly planned growth being the true culprit when it comes to unsafe traffic conditions. The trees aren’t the problem. The benefits the trees provide are so great that it is worth the effort required to develop our roadways in such a way that our tree canopy is preserved.

    Sadly, the trees the protesters tried to save were cut down on Saturday. Chairman Peter Liakakis and Commisssioner Farrell were there to witness the cutting. Pity they didn’t see fit to inform their constituents who learned via email after the fact that the trees they had tried to save were now gone. The protesters deserved to be treated better than that by their elected officials!

  5. Pingback: Sustainable Savannah | Tracking sustainability news and events in Savannah, Georgia (and beyond) » State senate bill a threat to roadside trees

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