Daphne City Councilman John Lake said he cried when he saw more than 30 trees were cut down Monday in front of an apartment complex in development on U.S. 98 in Daphne.
“It made me that sick to see those trees being cut down,” Lake said. “I almost had a heart attack. I’ve never seen this kind of thing done in our city before.”
Lake estimated there were more than 30 hardwood trees removed Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, in front of the 240 unit Colonnade at Eastern Shore complex near Johnson Road.
Public Works Director Richard Johnson said the project predates many of the current city officials, having been brought before the city in a conceptual way as early as 2008. He said a site plan was approved in 2009, but the project was delayed because of the economic downturn. He said the original site plan did include tree removal and the city’s tree protection ordinance requires mitigation for all “heritage oaks.”
Mayor Dane Haygood said the city approved initial site plans for the complex under a previous administration. He said the trees were removed to make way for a 600-foot turn lane to provide access to the apartment complex.
The mayor said the developer received a permit from the Alabama Department of Transportation for the work, which was done on an ALDOT owned right-of-way. Haygood said he was traveling on Monday and did not know the tree removal was going to happen. The project is being constructed by Mississippi-based Heritage Construction Company.
“We approved the site plans a few years ago and they also had permission from ALDOT, so this was done by the book for the most part,” Haygood said. “ALDOT has purview of their rights-of-way. But it just wasn’t on our radar this week. Especially not on a holiday when no one from the city was working.”
According to Haygood, the development is a longstanding project with many details worked out in 2009 and 2010. He said he was unaware the trees would be removed this week, though.
“We needed to know about it ahead of time, no question,” Haygood said. “I was traveling and didn’t know it was taking place and most city personnel was off because it was done on a holiday.”
Johnson said the shock of seeing the trees removed was likely due to the length of time between the original conceptual plan to this week. He said no trees that weren’t part of the original plan were removed and that eight or nine oaks were removed from U.S. 98 frontage but will be replaced in the developer’s mitigation plan.
“I think it caught a lot of people off guard and it wasn’t communicated well,” Johnson said. “I believe the cutting happening on Monday was just incidental. The private sector companies usually don’t take that day off.”
Councilman Randy Fry said the complex has been “on the drawing board” for years and the developer does have a plan to mitigate the environmental impact of the trees that were cut down.
Lake said he hopes the city will think about the future if it continues to remove trees.
“In the last three years we’ve lost more oaks in Daphne than we have in the last 30 years,” Lake continued. “If this continues we will have no trees, 98 will just be bare.”