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City begins work to replace downtown trees

Keith Gatlin, owner of Lott Furniture Company, welcomed theremoval of Bradford Pear trees in front of his business as a partof a city downtown tree replacement project.

“I’m glad they’re gone,” Gatlin said Friday, one day after thecity began cutting some of the large trees on Railroad Avenue.

The trees, growing to as high as 30 feet, and their fallingleaves have created some problems for downtown merchants and cityofficials.

“It got to where you couldn’t even see the sign on ourbuilding,” Gatlin said.

Gatlin alluded to sidewalk damage from the trees’ root systemand leaves blowing into businesses when the door opens.

“When the leaves fall, it makes a mess out there,” said Gatlin,while also mentioning some treacherous walking conditions caused bywet leaves during rainy periods. “I was afraid some elderly personwould fall.”

Across the railroad tracks on Whitworth Avenue, merchantsmentioned similar leaf and other problems.

“Granny sweeps every day,” said Megan Russell, who works atFashion Jewelry by Margaret Ann Britt.

The pear trees on Railroad and Whitworth Avenues are the firstto be removed as part of a joint project between the city,Brookhaven Beautiful, Entergy and the chamber’s CommunityAppearance committee.

Several tree tops on South Railroad Avenue were cut out earlyThursday morning. Work is scheduled to resume the week afterThanksgiving, said Mayor Bob Massengill.

On Railroad Avenue, the mayor said, trees will be cut back tosix to eight feet and removed altogether before Christmas.Whitworth Avenue will see the same activity, with the trees removedin early January after the holiday season.

The pear trees then will be replaced with Sasanquas, Massengillsaid. The trees, a form of Camellia, grow to about eight to 10 feetand are more manageable.

“They can be pruned and they can be controlled,” Massengillsaid. “We think they will help the downtown area be beautiful allyear round.”

While some have expressed concerns about the tree removal,Massengill said the project involves replacing a tree with atree.

“We’re replacing a tree that loses its leaves with a tree thatis an evergreen,” the mayor said.

Ward Four Alderwoman Shirley Estes said the Bradford Pear was apopular option for urban planting several years ago. However, size,leaf and other problems have prompted a number of cities to removeor replace them.

“People have come to regret that planting,” Estes said.

Estes said Brookhaven Beautiful is making about a $2,000investment in the new tree planting.

“We’ve had some memorial gifts and some other gifts,” Estessaid.

City expense in the project is labor costs, Massengill said. Heindicated the early-morning timing of the work requires someovertime expense.

“It takes time to do what needs to be done and at a time whenthe streets are not busy,” Massengill said. “We’re just trying todo it right.”

Estes said representatives from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippiand Alabama have been discussing plans for a Camellia Trail acrossthe four states. The trail would allow enthusiasts to visit areasthat have been enhanced with Camellias.

“We’re hoping to position ourselves to be part of that once thatcomes about,” said Estes, who has been discussing tree plans withWard Three Alderwoman Mary Wilson, whose district includes part ofthe downtown area.

Massengill said there have been concerns about other downtowntrees, such as Hollys and their falling berries, on other streets.He said the city is not focusing on those now, but hopefully couldin the future.

“My hope is we can eventually replace all the trees we’veplanted with Sasanquas,” Massengill said.

While new trees will be planted after the first of the year, adowntown street paving project is expected to start around thattime. Massengill said that would further improve the downtownarea.

“By spring time, downtown is going to be looking really good,”Massengill said.

Massengill said the current tree project is a major one becauseit is so visible. He was hopeful that citizens and downtownmerchants will be proud once the project is completed.

“I want us to be proud of our downtown and I think we’re goingto be when we get this done,” Massengill said.