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Six willow oaks and live oaks have died during the renovation of Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, at least partly because the contractor failed to follow specified tree-protection procedures, city officials said this week.'
City Manager Scott Dadson said tree-protection measures outlined in the city's contract with Brantley Construction have been mostly followed, but there have been instances of tree damage that could have been prevented with proper care. However, Brantley, the project's lead contractor, blamed poor project design for the tree deaths. '
The city has clashed with Brantley in the past over the $6.7 million park renovation, which began July 25, 2005. Brantley said last month that it should be entitled to 306 extension days for the project because of unforeseeable circumstances, but the city granted only 56, extending its expected completion date to Sept. 8. '
Brantley said it anticipates finishing ahead of schedule in November.'
"We're extremely disappointed with the non-compliance of some of the specific tree-protection measures throughout the project," Dadson said Thursday. '
Dadson noted that the city's construction manager for the project, Collins Engineers, sent a letter to Brantley on Sept. 20, citing Brantley's non-compliance with tree-protection measures as having "significantly contributed to the rapid decline and death" of four willow oaks and two live oaks.'
The letter charges that Brantley failed to adequately protect the trees' main lateral roots, perform proper root pruning, install and maintain tree-protection fencing and restrict the storage of equipment near trees.'
"(Brantley) did perform some of the measures but they did not perform them all and they did not perform all of them 100 percent of the time," said Project Construction Manager James O'Connor, who wrote the letter. "The trees were not given the proper chance to make it through."'
Brantley, however, claims the trees' deaths were not the contractor's fault. '
"The trees died because of (project) design deficiencies that did not adequately take into consideration the impact of the work around the trees," company Vice President Gary Brantley said. "In many areas we were required to dig within 2 to 3 feet of the tree trunks, severing the root system. ... What killed the trees is cutting the roots and the work itself."'
The Sept. 20 letter claims Brantley did not dig with enough care and did not cut tree roots the proper way. It also asserts that Brantley stored heavy equipment too close to the trees, compacting the soil over their root systems. '
The city requested Brantley replace the dead live oaks with younger live oaks that have 6-inch trunk diameters. The live oaks that died had diameters of 20 inches and 27 inches. The city asked Brantley to replace the willow oaks with 6-inch-diameter Allee elms, which city Parks Superintendent Eliza Hill said are more likely than willow oaks to thrive in Beaufort. The willow oaks ranged in diameter from 12 inches to 30 inches.'
Some of the trees that died were nearly 30 years old, Hill said. '
It is possible to transfer a tree with a 30-inch diameter to a site like Waterfront Park, Hill said, but it would cost approximately $30,000 for a single tree. The 6-inch replacement trees that Beaufort has requested will cost $2,100 each including transportation, she estimated. '
Gary Brantley said his company will follow the city's direction for replacing the trees. However, the company is contesting the city's determination that the deaths were the contractor's fault and will seek reimbursement from the city for the cost of replacing the trees.'
Before renovation began, arborist Preservation Tree Care surveyed the 80 trees in the waterfront park and recommended the removal of all trees that were in poor condition. The company's president, Michael Murphy, said Preservation only recommended keeping the trees that were in good, very good or excellent condition because it is difficult to do construction work around trees.'
Thirteen trees were removed at Preservation's recommendation, Hill said, and the city later approved a Brantley request for permission to remove four more trees. With the recent removal of six dead trees, which Murphy said were in good condition when construction started, 57 original trees remain.'
"We don't want to lose any more, so we're really pushing Brantley to stay in compliance with these tree-protection procedures," Assistant City Manager Matt Horn said. "There's a couple of trees out there we're keeping our eyes on that we still feel are in danger."'
Hill said that if additional live oaks have been damaged by construction, they could still survive for several years. If additional willow oaks have been damaged, though, they will show their poor health by next summer, she said.'
Whether any more trees will be lost cannot be determined at this time but, "Basically all of the trees in the park are showing some signs of distress due to the intense construction around them," O'Connor said.'
In a project like the park renovation, some risk of damaging trees is unavoidable, said Lamar Taylor, Beaufort's public works operations officer.'
"Whenever you have any kind of construction with live oaks and willow oaks you have to take particular care ... and there's a 50-50 shot (of survival)," he said. "Maybe (the trees that died) were old and distressed. We had a pretty hot summer. Maybe the drought contributed to it."'
David Carter, vice chairman of the Beaufort Tree Board, said the city could have done more to protect the trees, but it would have substantially increased the time and money put into the project.'
"If you're going to take care of the trees, you are going to have to allow double the amount of time (for construction) than if you just come in and tear into it," Carter said.'
Carter said the city likely would have required higher tree-protection standards for "any other commercial project," but "it's what they thought was sufficient for a downtown '
The city could have required larger barricades to keep people and equipment away from trees, Carter said, and greater protections could have been required for trees' root structures.'
In accordance with its contract with the city, Brantley laid plywood on the ground over trees' root systems and placed dirt on the plywood to form a makeshift roadway for its trucks.'
"If we were going to be sensitive to the trees, no plywood and no dirt would be allowed on top of the roots," Carter said.'
Murphy disagreed, however, saying the plywood and dirt buffer the roots from soil compaction and are a safe way to protect the root systems, if followed.'
"There was a good degree of protective requirements put into the contract to keep the trees that are there safe and protected," Murphy said. "But there's definitely some distress there. Even to a layman ... you can walk through the park and look at the canopies and some are thin, some are thinning and some are good."