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Miami Beach working on plan to preserve trees on Pine Tree Drive

Miami Beach is making plans to preserve the aging trees on Pine Tree Drive, but the city probably will have to remove a few trees and trim others for the safety of people who walk or drive beneath them, a consultant told a meeting of city residents Monday night.

City officials called the meeting to explain their plans to preserve the almost 300 trees that line Pine Tree Drive. The trees’ safety has been questioned in recent years.

Arborist consultant Chuck Lippi has proposed that 15 trees be removed. He said an additional 106 trees need corrective pruning to remove dead, dying or weakened branches, while almost 160 trees need routine pruning.

Although Lippi’s proposal would save many of the trees, it would affect their appearance. He said the size of the crown of the trees should be reduced by 25 to 40 percent, which he said is necessary to maintain the trees’ structural integrity and to keep pedestrians safe.

“You got to make the trees safer sooner rather than later. You don’t want the accident to happen first,” Lippi said.

The Australian pine trees were planted more than 100 years ago by the pioneering Miami Beach developer John S. Collins to act as a windbreak for his crops of mango and avocado trees. In 2001, the city commissioned passed an ordinance that designated Pine Tree Drive a historic roadway, saying the trees add character to the area.

Safety concerns arose in 2010, when one of the trees fell without warning on a calm day. At the time, a study was conducted to look at possible courses of action, but the city has taken no action yet. Now, the city must act if it wishes to preserve the trees, said Mark Williams, Miami Beach’s urban forester.

“We need to actively manage these trees if we want to preserve more of them,” he said. “Otherwise, the alternative is going to be a lot more removals, which I’m sure isn’t going to be a very popular suggestion.”

While Lippi said Australian pines typically typically live about 50 years in Florida, those along Pine Tree Drive have survived twice as long and could last years longer.

The Australian pine has been classified as a non-native, invasive species, and it is illegal to sell or plant that species in Miami-Dade County. Officials say they are exploring possible species to replace the trees that have been or will be removed.

Lippi said the trees that line Pine Tree Drive do not present a risk to other species of plants, largely because they are separated from other native species by several lanes of traffic.

Another concern that was brought up during the meeting was the quality of the road. Over the years, the roots have grown underneath it, creating ridges and cracks in the asphalt, making for a bumpy drive. Lippi said it is possible to build up the road while preserving the roots below.

Whatever action the city of Miami Beach takes, it must receive approval from Miami-Dade County because Pine Tree Drive is a county road.

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