A Mississippi oak survived Hurricane Katrina, but now faces removal

Published 6:45 am Thursday, July 1, 2021

A centuries-old live oak tree in a Mississippi coastal community survived Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but now faces removal because arborists say it could fall onto a playground that sits in its shade.

The oak in Fort Maurepas Park in the city of Ocean Springs took another pounding from Hurricane Zeta last year. It now leans west, with limbs extending over the playground.

The Ocean Springs Board of Alderman voted June 15 to take the tree down after an arborist who inspected it in November said the root system is failing, the Sun Herald reported.

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Residents invited another arborist to inspect the tree Monday, the newspaper reported. Several residents, Alderman Rickey Authement and Mayor-Elect Kenny Holloway attended.

But the second arborist’s conclusion largely matched the original arborist’s. He recommended removing the tree, estimated to be at least 200 years old, because of liability involving the playground.

Zeta’s high winds and the saturation of soil by rain caused the tree to shift three to four inches toward the playground, arborist Ben Kahlmus of Fulghams, Inc. Tree Preservation found when he inspected in November. But the hurricane was not the primary problem.

The tree suffers from soil compaction that reduced the nutrients and oxygen for the roots. The primary cause was the development of the playground and walking path right next to the tree, Kahlmus wrote.

Some of the people who want to save the tree say the decision to remove it is part of a pattern of neglect for Ocean Springs’ trees. They note that the position of city arborist was eliminated. And a committee that oversaw maintenance and care of the city’s trees was dissolved.