Florida Keys

‘Help save me!’ A sprawling, 94-year-old mahogany tree faces the chainsaw

Anonymous signs were placed on the tree recently, asking for locals to attend the Feb. 14 Tree Commission meeting to help ‘save’ the 94-year-old mahogany. City staff says it’s a traffic safety hazard.
Anonymous signs were placed on the tree recently, asking for locals to attend the Feb. 14 Tree Commission meeting to help ‘save’ the 94-year-old mahogany. City staff says it’s a traffic safety hazard. Keynoter

On Valentine’s Day, tree lovers in Key West will try to save a near-century-old, three-trunk mahogany tree from getting dumped by the city.

The tree that stretches across the 1100 block of Simonton Street has outlived many Key West residents at age 94, having been planted in 1923.

“Help save me!” reads a sign placed on the tree’s trunk, urging people to attend the 5 p.m. Feb. 14 Tree Commission meeting at City Hall, 1300 White St. “I am now in the way after” more than 90 years.

Ralph DePalma, of Key West, says the city needs to respect the tree.

“Move the street, make it one lane there,” DePalma posted on Facebook this week. “Hang a big orange danger sign.”

But city staff says the tree is a traffic safety hazard that causes trucks to get stuck while passing the road because it doesn’t meet the 14-foot-tall clearance federal requirement for traffic safety.

Traffic lanes cannot be shifted, the engineering department said, and heavy trimming of the trunk over the road would leave an “unbalanced tree with all of its weight over private property and away from the core center of the tree creating a safety issue,” Urban Forestry Manager Karen DeMaria wrote in a January report.

On Oct. 27, 2016, a semi-truck got wedged beneath the tree and had to be towed. The driver was making a delivery to a welding company right there at 1105 Simonton St., when the truck got stuck.

“The whole roof on the trailer got peeled off,” Teresita Gomez, president of P.G.T Transport of Medley, Fla., wrote in an accident report filed Nov. 25, 2016. “The railing on side got completely damaged, along with the rear post and the tracks that hold the door.”

The city paid P.G.T. $9,331 for the damage and Gomez added this wasn’t the first time a vehicle had been stymied by the tree, according to conversations with city leaders.

City Manager Jim Scholl then asked De Maria to request removal of the tree from the volunteer Tree Commission, an advisory board to the City Commission that handles tree removal applications.

Trimming would leave the historic mahogany with a huge scar, DeMaria said. “The final cut would be a large cut that would take a while to heal (older trees have a hard time healing large cuts),” she wrote.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen

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