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Two historic trees and the picnic area underneath them in Neptune Park on St. Simons Island remain cordoned off after two large branches fell, one snapping a concrete picnic table in half.

Glynn County Commissioners heard from the fourth arborist to look at two live oak trees in Neptune Park on St. Simons Island at a work session Tuesday and may take action as soon as Thursday.

Public Works Director Dave Austin said the county has had four arborists look at the trees.

The first one, Andy Jones with Jones Tree Service, recommended cutting them down. Former University of Georgia Extension Agent Don Gardner, the second arborist, recommended removing the picnic tables and fencing off the area or cutting them down and planting new trees. The third, Savannah arborist Chris Gerards, also recommended fencing them off and nursing them back to health.

“Just like any kind of discipline that you have, you have various degrees of opinions,” Austin said.

The fourth arborist, Daniel Lippi of St. Augustine, said the trees weren’t particularly unhealthy and that the issue was mainly the weight and length of the limbs. The trees “could be healthier,” Lippi said, but that wasn’t the most pressing issue.

In a report on his findings, Lippi said that strategically trimming around a quarter of both trees’ canopies and bracing some of the heavier limbs would allow the county to reopen the picnic area in short order.

“When I was asked to present today, it was from my report which apparently threw a big old wrench to what everyone had been told here in Glynn County,” Lippi said.

To gauge the health of a tree you look at the leaves, he said. If there’s something wrong with the leaves, then you can infer there’s something wrong elsewhere in the tree as well, but the leaves looked fine to him.

“The problem that you all are having with your trees is not health related. There are some health-related issues. I think they have to do with the pavers that were installed 10 years ago, but they’re not that severe. The issues you’re having are structural. You have trees that are too large. They’re too big,”

Tree limbs can, in fact, grow too large for their trunks to support, Lippi said, and begin falling. Long, heavy live oak limbs can weigh 20-40,000 pounds, he explained, which can become too much for the tree’s trunk to support. He said it’s a natural process called retrenchment.

“All trees, every single species on this planet, will get too big for itself because they keep adding and keep adding and keep adding and eventually you get too much weight and too much circumferential mass that the trees can’t support themselves,” Lippi said. “They start to shed and break apart. All trees do this. Live oaks do it a lot because instead of growing vertically, they tend to grow laterally.”

Commissioner David O’Quinn asked why they were seeing such a disparity in opinions from the four arborists.

“They didn’t address the type of failure. That was not addressed at all and that’s the main problem,” Lippi said. “These are whole, large lateral limbs that are failing. Again, with all due respect, they missed the big point. It’s not that the trees are dying.”

His recommendation follows American National Standards Institute guidelines and is based on current research and science, which minimizes the county’s liability, he said. He added that he’s testified in court in cases of injury involving falling limbs and is comfortable doing so.

Glynn County Attorney Aaron Mumford, however, said he believed the county would already be immune from any liability resulting from the two trees dropping limbs.

Commissioner Bob Coleman said a lot of kids play on the large, low-hanging limbs and asked if Lippi would want to cut those down.

“Actually, we want to keep those limbs on the ground. Live oaks are unique in that they will buttress themselves if we let them. A lot of times we will shave up these limbs and not let them reach the ground ... in a healthy, untouched live oak, these limbs will reach the ground and they will buttress themselves,” Lippi said.

Commissioner Mike Browning asked Austin if he could have a recommendation ready for review at the commission’s meeting on Thursday. Austin said he could.

Next, O’Quinn presented a solution for the situation with Coastal Outreach Soccer over rental fees for Paulk Park in the Arco neighborhood.

The program’s executive director, Shawn Williams, pulled out from the park’s renovation project when commissioners began questioning the deal they had originally planned to enter into with Williams.

Currently, the county doesn’t charge Coastal Outreach Soccer for the use of Howard Coffin Park, and county Recreation and Parks Department staff were planning to draw up a similar arrangement for Paulk.

At a finance committee meeting in February, committee members, O’Quinn among them, said they had been contacted by other soccer programs that wanted similar arrangements with the county. They ultimately deferred the Paulk Park deal, saying they wanted to discuss it with the full commission and did not want to look like they were playing favorites.

“A lot of what has happened is either miscommunication or misunderstandings or questions that weren’t asked,” O’Quinn said “... His program is for at-risk children. His program is not just a soccer program. He uses soccer as a hook, as it were, to engage the young people, to get them involved ... He will tell you what he is all about is not winning soccer games, or competing at high levels of soccer, but getting kids to graduate from high school.”

Looking further into it, O’Quinn said he recognized that donations toward the park’s renovation may not have happened without the program.

“There were two corporations in our community that put funds forward to help it come about. Honeywell, through a donation to Rebuilding Together (of Glynn County), put 28,000 dollars into this project. Sea Island Company paid an in-kind gift of 10,500 (dollars) for a new irrigation system,” O’Quinn said. “... The money was given not just to have a field in Arco, but to have a field so this kind of program could be implemented.”

He recommended giving Coastal Outreach Soccer $38,500 in credit to use toward rental fees for Paulk Park. The credit would be split between five years, lowering the annual rental fees from $11,900 to $4,900. The sixth year’s fees would be reduced by $3,500.

Williams said he would need to consider it, as he was already looking at a $25,000 increase in the program’s budget just to expand to the Arco neighborhood.

Near the end of the discussion, the commission allowed outgoing Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce President Woody Woodside to speak. He defended Coastal Outreach Soccer, saying the program is good for the community and often partners with local businesses.

Browning asked that the agreement be put on the county commission’s May 2 agenda.

Commissioners also heard an update on a project to fix drainage issues in the College Park Neighborhood from EMC Engineering Branch Manager Kip Goodbread.

A report from the engineering firm recommends rerouting the stormwater drainage system around the intersection of Altama Avenue and the Ga. 25 Spur, which would require cooperation with the Georgia Department of Transportation and cost around $6.8 million.

The county has $1 million in SPLOST 2016 funds set aside for the project, while the city of Brunswick allocated $3,243,750 in SPLOST 2016 revenue for stormwater drainage projects it can tap into. The city’s money will be split between multiple projects, however.

In other business, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful Executive Director Lea King-Badyna told commissioners about the upcoming third annual citywide cleanup in Brunswick.

Last year, 241 volunteers participated in 30 groups. They collected 3.9 tons of trash, not counting 91 tires, she said.

“This has been a really positive effort between the city of Brunswick, the Downtown Development Authority and Keep Golden Isles Beautiful, and because of its close proximity this year especially, with Norwich Street being so close to the Arco area, we just wanted to bring it to your attention,” King-Badyna said.

The citywide cleanup is set for April 27 from 9-11 a.m. For more information or to register, call 912-267-5500.

Commissioners also heard an update on grants offered by the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships through the Coastal Regional Commission and asked county staff members to put a policy for naming county assets on their May 2 agenda.

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