A local parks organization is proposing to remove five oak trees from Bienville Square as part of a plan to improve the public space.
William Hanes, president of the Downtown Parks Conservancy, confirmed an arborist hired by the group suggested cutting down the “dying” trees. Two of the trees are in the center of the park near the fountain, the other three are along the park’s west side.
“The lead planners on the project hired an arborist,” he said. “There are five trees in the park that are already dying and are a public safety issue.”
One of the problems plaguing the trees in the park is soil compaction caused by crowds at Mardi Gras and other events, Hanes said. The overall health of the trees in the park was discussed at one of several public meetings about the plan.
“The importance of tree health was brought up,” he said. “The goal is to create a space to help the trees thrive.”
There is a plan to put mulch around the trees to help ease soil compaction, Hanes said.
Noting the dangers of some of the older trees in the park, Hanes pointed out an incident last year in which a limb from a tree fell on the car of a Wet Willie’s employee. No one was in the vehicle at the time, he said.
A master plan, which should be completed by the end of the year, also includes removing the fencing around the fountain, Hanes said.
“That was the recommendation of the planners, with the goal being when you walk in the square you will be captured by the breathtaking beauty of the fountain and not be distracted by an artificial barrier,” he said.
Improved lighting will also be part of the plan. This could include brighter lighting near the fountain and dimmer lighting in other areas. Additionally, several stakeholders have asked that more color be added to the park through flower plantings, Hanes said.
Despite some pushback from those passionate about the city’s trees, Hanes said the reaction to the plan to this point has largely been positive.
“We’re pleased with the level of support,” he said. “Bienville Square is Mobile’s living room … people are passionate about it.”
This master plan is not a new idea. Hanes said the conservancy has been holding public meetings on it for more than a year.
Mobile Tree Commissioner Jesse McDaniel said he’s skeptical of the plan to cut down the Bienville Square trees, although he admitted to not having attended the most recent public meeting.
“It’s going to cause some heartburn,” he said. “People use Bienville Square daily. People are going to be upset by it.”
McDaniel said the Tree Commission cannot control the fates of trees in a city park, only rights of way, but he added he’s not convinced the targeted trees pose a public safety issue.
“There are plenty of trees in the city that have something wrong with them,” he said. “The question is whether it’s a hazard to the public. You’d have a hard time convincing me those trees are a hazard to the public.”
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