Crime of 30 Years Ago Visits Next Generation

18 June 2014 Idea of the Day “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley

The other day my property manager friend Sue called me with an urgent request.
“Bob I just e-mailed you a map of a community I’ve got with a lot of root problems with their oaks.You’ve got some experience with root problems don’t you?”

“Yes I do. Probably as much or more than anybody else in the tri-county area.” It was true. I had estimated, drawn plans for and run large projects fixing root problems. Roots could be major problems for a community. The biggest one had been tearing up a 2 mile jogging path that everybody in the community used and was tripping over.

“Could you go out to look at it and give them an assessment of what needs to be done?”

I was happy to help her community, but this was the kind of request that could end up costing a lot of time with no work to do.

“Sure Sue, but it’s going to cost my regular consulting fee because this won’t necessarily lead to any tree work. Is that ok with the community?”

“Can’t you just tell me what you think?” she pleaded.

“Well actually, no. It takes an hour trip just the driving, plus forty five minutes to look at it all, plus putting together all my experience with roots and I guess you want something in writing to take to the next board meeting, right?”

“Well yeah,” she said softly.

“Then my usual basic consulting fee plus a written report fee is what somebody needs to sign to if they want me.”

There was a pause. I honestly didn’t care which way she went. I had plenty of other work keeping me busy.

“Well, ok, send me the proposal and I’ll sign it.”

“Will do.”

So I got out the estimate to Sue, she signed it and the next day I headed out to this community out near the wild areas of the County. These were newer communities, mostly built about 20 to 30 years ago against the backdrop of beautiful cypress and pine forests full of deer, possum, eagles, egrets and plenty of other wildlife.

I drove up the main street of this community per the map Sue had sent me. Yep, there were 25 to 30 year old live oaks planted 2 feet from the sidewalk because a foot the other way was a downward sloping bank into a lake. Almost at every one the sidewalk was lifting and/or cracking. It was a classic case of “wrong tree for the location”.

I parked and walked along studying the sidewalk. The community had tried to “paper over” the problem by shaving the lip edges so the uplifted slab wouldn’t continue to be a trip hazard. But that hadn’t lasted long. Now they were two inches higher and there wasn’t enough concrete left to shave any further. Some slabs had already been replaced. I cringed. God knows what kind of “care” the excavators took on the tree roots when they dug up the old concrete. Probably they cut them just 2 ft. from the trunk, a dangerous thing to do.

I collected all the distance measurements and other info and took it back to the office and started writing my report. I let them know about a tree’s “critical root zone” – that radius around a tree’s trunk where you simply couldn’t prune roots without destabilizing the tree and increasing the odds it would fall in wind or wet ground and without reducing its water and nutrient intake on the side where roots are cut. Entire sides of a tree can go brown after construction crews hack away at the roots on one side of a tree.

I let the community know what their Options were –
1) Do nothing with the 30% of trees that were not yet affecting the sidewalk next to them and cross your fingers their roots would find alternate routes to support themselves. Still there were 70% that had to be handled in another way. And the ones that looked fine were still growing and would undoubtedly be problematic within a few years.
2) Keep doing concrete shaving where it was still possible until the concrete was too thin.
3) They could install wood or resin deck walkways above the areas affected by roots. This would look a little strange in the landscape and possibly create new slip and fall hazards, but it would save the oaks and their root systems.
4) Remove the oaks and replace them with a more appropriate species for these small spaces, for example crape myrtles. Only problem is they would lose the beautiful green oak canopies so nicely shading the roads and four months of the year crape myrtles are bare because they are deciduous while Southern live oaks are green all year long in Florida. Or they could always replace with a small variety of magnolia, for example “Little Gem”. But these drop flowers, buds and leaves throughout the year without the shade and not everybody likes them. Well there were always palms. Some people like them. To me it would be a bad downgrade of atmosphere back in this forested area. But it wasn’t cheap taking down all those oaks and grinding the stumps deep to allow for new root balls, even if the County would even allow them to remove such protected trees!
5) Then there were the experimental solutions like rubberized sidewalks. Assuming they could find a “gentle” contractor to remove the concrete without hurting roots, a challenge in itself, the community would still face surfaces that many thought were ugly looking. And even though they don’t crack, they do expand like little bubble humps when they roots continue to grow bigger.
6) Finally there was the “ultimate” solution, which I didn’t really consider a solution at all. But I had to let them know if they could find a company willing to cut the roots close to the trunks and install a barrier between the roots and the sidewalks, they’d probably have to sign a Waiver of Liability against any costs or injuries caused by the trees falling or dying. Then they’d have to keep their fingers crossed. Not a recommended solution.

All this because developers thirty years ago didn’t want to pay to consult an arborist or landscape architect about correct trees to plant for these locations so they could pocket the money themselves. Their sons and daughters were paying for their sins. Hmmm, seems the Bible was right on this one.

I’m curious which solution they choose. It’s not an easy choice, even when I know the technically correct formula to create an answer (what is the most optimum solution for the entire environment, human and natural from a birds-eye God viewpoint?). Which one would you go with? Or do you have a better solution than all six of these?

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