The days may be numbered for some of the most prominent trees in Oxford.
Three oaks on the grounds of the Lafayette County Courthouse are showing clumps of dead branches, some of which hang over the surrounding sidewalk and the adjoining street, prompting the concern of the Oxford Tree Board, which has no authority over the county-owned property.
“The tree that’s on the south-southwest corner, almost across from Square Books, is in serious decline,” said Tree Board co-chair Hume Bryant. “I’d say the top one-third of the whole tree is dead. The one almost due west is almost in the same shape, and the one over here (southeast corner) is not looking too good.”
Those aren’t the first courthouse trees to be in trouble: One of their peers at the northeast corner of the courthouse dropped a giant limb early one morning in 2010, smashing the wrought iron fence and prompting the Board of Supervisors to have the tree removed before it could injure someone or do more serious damage.
“Right after the construction there, there was an almost immediate decline in that tree,” said Memphis-based arborist Terran Arwood, whose company removed that tree and regularly does work for the University of Mississippi and the City of Oxford. “That was kind of a warning sign, so I’ve been very concerned about the other trees.”
The courthouse grounds are far from an ideal area for large trees, he said, and soil compaction from equipment and materials during the renovation of the courthouse completed in 2009 probably worsened their conditions.
“Those trees are in a very minimal space for survival, and now they’re using more energy than they can create,” Arwood said. The struggling specimens will likely die altogether within a few years, he noted, but the immediate safety concern is that they will begin to drop limbs.
“A tree is deemed a hazard when there’s a target in the drop zone,” he said. “The Square is a busy place. The worst case is that somebody gets killed.”
Tree Board Co-chair Cowan Hunter shares that fear.
“Obviously, they’re in the middle of town, they’re big trees,” he said. “We’re concerned about them. We certainly don’t want one coming down in the middle of the loop.”
Several Tree Board members expressed concern that county supervisors have not yet addressed the safety issue.
“They need to do that this summer,” Mary Hartwell Howorth said.
Lafayette County Administrator Joseph Johnson said he talked informally about the trees with several supervisors and plans to get an expert opinion to present to the full board.
Board of Supervisors President Jeff Busby said removing whole trees would be a last resort to address the safety issue, in his opinion.
“Those big trees are part of this square and this courthouse. Yes, we do need to take down the dead branches, and I’m sure we’ll plan to do that,” he said. “I’m going to be very much against cutting a tree down unless an expert like (retired forester) John Arrechea tells me it’s a danger and there’s no way to save it.
“I’m not going to have someone who cuts trees tell me they’re dead.”
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