Palms popping up all over Bay

New palm trees continued to pop up unexpectedly in Bay St. Louis last week, this time in the Depot District along Blaize Avenue.

Startled motorists driving by the historic train depot and the small business district across the street were scratching their heads as workers swarmed into the area and, in short order, planted about 36 good-sized palm trees.

The trees are slightly smaller than another 43 palms planted along Dunbar Avenue in recent weeks. Those trees tower 20 feet or more in the air, and many are planted at the old McDonald Field site.

So what’s up? Where are all these trees coming from? How much do they cost, and who’s paying for them?

And why the placement, which might be considered … well, peculiar?

Answers on costs and procurement will be forthcoming, Mayor Les Fillingame promised the Sea Coast Echo. City official Buzz Olsen said Tuesday that he was researching details on costs of the trees.

Meanwhile, some answers to other questions are available.

The trees are all part of two different, federally-funded streetscape projects. Both projects are funded through part of $200 million in Community Development Block Grants pumped into Hancock County to help with the protracted recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

Both projects have being orchestrated by the same engineering firm, Neel-Schaffer, Inc., and the same architect, Allison Anderson.

The Dunbar palms are part of a downtown streetscape and the depot palms were planted under auspices of a Depot District streetscape.

Fillingame said the depot palms are being placed permanently, intended to replace a line of palms that graced the train station grounds many years ago. Some of those older remaining trees were removed after Katrina.

Of the new trees, he said, “Those on Blaize Avenue are going to remain there.”

That’s not the case with the Dunbar palms. “The vast majority of those trees are in a storage mode right now,” Fillingame told the City Council last week.

They may remain for some time, but will eventually be moved, he said.

“These will end up on Beach Boulevard,” Fillingame said Monday.

The original boundaries of the downtown streetscape did not included Beach Boulevard, he said. The city is now negotiating with the Mississippi Development Authority, which monitors the federal grants, for permission to move the Dunbar palms at least partly to the beach front.

Many of those trees will eventually end up along the beach, he said, located with the new beach front street lighting.

“Basically, what we want to do is have one tree between each light,” he said.

In addition, some palms will be relocated from Dunbar Avenue to a city-owned parking lot near Court Street and Beach Boulevard.

Fillingame acknowledges there have been mistakes in placing trees – not only palms, but also young live oaks that were planted in problem spots and had to be moved.

The actual designs for tree placement in the streetscapes were done by Ed Blake, a tree expert with Crosby Arboretum in Picayune, Fillingame said. “He’s got very credible credentials” and was subcontracted by Allison Anderson, he said.

However, Fillingame added, “It was obvious to us that the designers didn’t step back and take a real look at plant types and placement.”

Fillingame said the City Council should get more information on the designs from Anderson at its next workshop session on May 3.

“Probably at the next workshop, we’ll end up having Allison there with the answers,” he said..

BY: J.R. Welsh

The Sea Coast Echo

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