Trees planted around Bay St. Louis as part of the Downtown Streetscape Project are quickly dying because a project subcontractor has failed to maintain and water them in the scorching early summer heat, city officials say.
The $2 million-plus streetscape, funded by federal dollars, was recently completed and includes new sidewalks, streetlights, numerous trees, and landscaping. Trees planted around Old Town have included palms, oaks, magnolias, and pines.
Most of the magnolias still appear healthy. But in the Ulman Avenue area, some young oaks are already withered or dead, and stands of other small trees are brown and devoid of life.
The worse cases of water-deprived trees appeared along Ulman, but some oaks on Beach Boulevard are also drooping. Mayor Les Fillingame said the situation exists because a subcontractor has failed to water the trees. The landscaping subcontractor on the streetscapes was Southwest Design and Landscaping and the primary contractor was Benchmark Construction, according to city records.
Fillingame said the city has been unable to intercede in the case of drought-stricken trees because the project contract calls for the subcontractor to care for the trees and plants for one year after project completion. He said the project manager and architect, Allison Anderson, has been trying to address the problem.
“I took huge issue with it,” Fillingame said of the dead trees. He added that Southwest Design and Landscaping is ultimately responsible for replacing any new trees that die from neglect.
“They dropped the ball on this one,” he said. “They’re going to be held to the letter of the law under the contract. It’s their loss, and our aggravation.”
In the $2 million-plus streetscape cost, trees and landscaping accounted for $165,347 of the total. It was unclear this week how many trees have already died, and what their replacements will cost.
Fillingame said the young live oaks are the most vulnerable. “Even if they survive, they’ll come back as much less of a tree,” he said.
BY: J.R. Welsh
The Sea Coast Echo