CUT DOWN

           A tree that was cut down east of Russell Street, in Long Beach has residents angered about the old tree’s demise.

LONG BEACH

The city’s building official admitted Wednesday night that he did not follow the correct procedure when he allowed a resident to cut down a Live oak on property on U.S. 90.

Earl Levens told the mayor and Board of Aldermen he wasn’t aware the Planning Commission and the board had to approve permits to cut down trees on residential property.

He said he looked at the tree and “the north side of the tree was severely damaged. There was a branch that split off of the tree. The center of the trunk also was rotted.”

The tree was on a lot on U.S. 90 and Winter Lane.

Levens said he tried to contact members of the city’s tree board to look at the oak but couldn’t get in touch with anybody, so he issued the permit himself.

“Procedures weren’t followed; I admit that,” he said. “But (the property owner) didn’t want to build a house there and have the tree fall on the house.”

Levens issued the permit Feb. 1, and the tree was cut down sometime last week. Members of the tree board were outraged and said no one tried to contact them to look at the tree.

The group’s lawyer, Bill Little, spoke for them and asked Mayor Billy Skellie and the aldermen to review what happened and make sure everyone knows the process and follows it.

“The tree board obviously was disturbed about this, considering the work they’ve done to replace trees,” Little said. “Unfortunately, this tree is gone. We really don’t want to see any more trees cut down without following the proper procedures.”

Arborist Joe Loftus works with the tree board, and he told aldermen Wednesday the tree was about 100 years old and was worth about $22,000.

Loftus said the tree was wounded, probably from Hurricane Georges, but could have recovered.

The city has an ordinance that says a resident must have a valid permit before cutting down a Live oak or a Magnolia tree. According to the law, the Planning Commission and the Board of Aldermen must approve the permit. The ordinance, which was adopted in 1986, doesn’t mention the tree board.

Several members said Wednesday night that there is an updated ordinance that says the tree board will make recommendations to the Planning Commission when a resident wants to cut down a tree from his property. After the meeting, though, Skellie said city employees searched for a newer ordinance and couldn’t find one.

“We want to protect trees,” Skellie said Wednesday. “We try to work with people and get them to build around trees when it’s possible.”

Joanna Hudson, who served on the city’s tree board for years, said trees belong to everyone. “When you cut a tree, you’re robbing yourself, your neighbor and nature,” she said. “Trees aren’t just yours because they’re on your property. They belong to all of us.”

  Some Long Beach residents are angry about a tree that was cut early this week.

  What remains of a tree cut down east of Russell Street, can be found in Long Beach.

By MELISSA M. SCALLAN – mmscallan@sunherald.com

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