Work crews ax mighty Columbia shade tree

Angry Earlewood residents liken action to ‘death of a family member’

sfretwell@thestate.comJanuary 12, 2013 

TOM CLEMENTS — Special to The State

— Workers cut down a huge shade tree in north Columbia sometime this week, leaving neighbors outraged and complaining loudly.

“Tree murder RIP’’ was scrawled on the stump soon after crews felled the oak along Columbia Avenue.

Estimated to be more than 75 feet tall and too wide to reach around, the tree was a key part of the canopy that defines the Earlewood community, several neighborhood residents said Friday.

“I’m thinking we’re going to try to bring heat on somebody,’’ neighbor David Vaughan said. “It’s like the death of a family member.’’

Neighbors blamed the S.C. Department of Transportation for chopping down the big tree on Columbia Avenue.

David Parker, who lives down the street, said DOT officials told him they authorized the tree removal after getting a complaint that it was affecting a road they were responsible for.

“If any tree is in the DOT right of way, and the tree is causing rippling in the streets or destruction of the sidewalk, and somebody calls and complains or identifies it as a risk, the tree is going to be cut down,’’ Parker said. “That’s the way the DOT explained it to me.’’

But Parker said that doesn’t make it right — and he worries that the DOT will remove other trees in his neighborhood.

“The reason we live on this street, in this neighborhood, is because of these massive trees,’’ Parker said.

A Department of Transportation official Parker spoke with was not available late Friday afternoon.

Columbia has an ordinance protecting city-owned trees, but it was not clear Friday night who owned the oak and whether the local law should have applied.

Despite complaints, one Earlewood resident said the large oak was causing problems on Columbia Avenue.

Jocelyn Newman said she called the transportation department to explain that tree roots were cracking the sidewalk in front of her house and impacting the street. She said she didn’t recall asking that the tree be removed.

“I was not aware that it would be cut down; no one told me it was being cut down,” she said.

Jocelyn Newman is the sister of Columbia City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman. But Councilman Newman said he only learned of the tree removal from his mother and he had nothing to do with the cutting.

Regardless of the circumstances, neighborhood resident Tom Clements said the big oak should have been spared.

Clements, who has a master’s degree in forest resources and is active in environmental issues, wrote City Councilman Sam Davis to complain. Clements estimated the tree, which he believes was a water oak, was as much as 100 years old.

“I’m sure that residents of Earlewood will be in touch with you about this situation and how to stop it so that our beautiful old trees lining the streets are rightfully protected from such needless destruction,’’ Clements’ email to Davis said. “For one thing, we need to get to the bottom of what happened so it won’t be repeated.’’

Columbia Avenue is in Davis’ district. Davis could not be reached Friday night.

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