Johns Island residents protest scheduled removal of Grand Oak
December 12, 2015
By Liza Lucas
Live 5 Charleston
JOHNS ISLAND, SC (WCSC) –
A grand oak tree on River Road in Johns Island faces an uncertain future.
“The Department of Transportation has deemed this tree to be unsafe for drivers going along River Road,” Natalie Olson, staff attorney and land use director for the Coastal Conservation League said. “As you can see, this tree along with other trees are located very close to the road. So there is a concern with traffic going too fast. If any cars leave the roadway and hit a fixed object, it’s very dangerous.”
Department of Transportation official Leland Colvin said the grand live oak on River Road, across from Fenwick Hall, is a safety hazard–and must come down. Colvin, who serves as Acting Deputy Secretary for Engineering for the department, said the tree must also be cleared to make way for a driveway access for the property owner and a future development.
“The interesting thing about this site is that it’s located across the street from Fenwick Hall, the most historic site on John’s Island,” Olson said. “The oak trees and oak canopy are iconic to Johns Island. What we are endangering here is losing, bit by bit, that picturesque scene on John’s Island that we should be working to protect.”
Olson said there’s normally a city or county public hearing before trees like these are cut down. But this tree is in DOT jurisdiction. The conservation league is petitioning to keep the tree intact until locals can weigh in. Charleston’s Mayor Joe Riley has also asked DOT to explore other alternatives.
“These trees are such an important part of the fabric of the Lowcountry, the character, and our heritage,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said.
According to DOT officials, there’s a reflective barrier in place to warn drivers, but cars still hit the tree. Colvin said they looked at moving the driveway access, which would alternately, require filling in wetlands, yet not fix the public safety issue.
“I do think it’s unfortunate,” Colvin said, in regards to removing the tree. But he said it’s the best choice when looking at alternatives and prioritizing driver safety.
According to S.C. traffic fatality statistics through August 2015, trees were the primary cause of fatal roadway departure crashes.
Mayor Riley submitted a letter to DOT asking for the tree to remain to allow time to investigate substitute plans, like reducing speeding limits and proposing a new access to the development.
“I think it would be a real loss if this tree comes down,” Mayor Riley said. “And I think it doesn’t have to happen.”