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Crawford Field oaks will die, experts tell judge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Arboreal experts hired by the Kanawha County school system told a judge Tuesday that the two pin oaks that line St. Albans High School's Crawford Field will not grow back into healthy trees and should be removed as a safety precaution.

Steve Hawkins, president of Green Meadow Services, and Ed Legge, a tree care specialist at the Davey Tree Co., told Kanawha County Circuit Judge Charles E. King on Tuesday that the trunk of one of the trees is rotted and cannot support its canopy, which was partially removed by contract crews earlier this month, spurring a St. Albans man to file an emergency restraining order against the school system.

The other tree, which had a scar that ran from the fork of its trunk nearly to the ground, was cut down to a stump standing several feet high. Hawkins and Legge said that while the stump will sprout branches and grow back, the inside of the trunk would continue to rot.

"It can't be managed," Legge said. "It'll sprout back and grow, but it will [turn into] fast growing shoots coming out of a rotting stump."

Kanawha County Schools Maintenance Director Terry Hollandsworth said that he made the decision to remove the trees after high winds from the derecho windstorm in June broke off a huge portion of the trunk from one of the trees and blocked U.S. 60 for several days. Both trees hang over portions of the roadway and the end zone of the high school's football field.

Legge said after the hearing that the branch that fell into the road was about 18 inches in diameter and weighed at least 1,000 pounds. No one was injured when the branch fell, but Legge and Hawkins agree that it's just a matter of time before portions of the now half-canopied tree fall into the road.

St. Albans resident Pat O'Reilly filed a temporary restraining order after crews started removing the trees earlier this month. He said Hollandsworth and schools Superintendent Ron Duerring usurped the authority of the school board by failing to notify them of the removal.

Hawkins and Legge examined the trees before work began and agreed that the trees were a hazard. Hawkins' company was hired to take care of the removal. The Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to reimburse the school system for the work, school board attorney Kelley Morgan said.

Mark Chatfield, chairman of the biology department at West Virginia State University, testified in Tuesday's hearing that the trees would likely survive but the school board would have to spend thousands of dollars in the long run to properly care for them.

"I think that the trees can be managed," he said. "These are good trees. I think it's sad that we've done what we've done to them."

When questioned by Morgan, Chatfield admitted that he could not properly inspect the trees as they stand now because of a fence the school placed around them.

This month marked the second round of restraining orders O'Reilly has filed in his quest to save the trees, which some estimate have been standing at that site for about a century.

In 2007, school officials sought to remove the trees and build bleachers and a new sidewalk in their place. O'Reilly filed restraining orders in Kanawha County and with the state Supreme Court.

School officials backed away from removing the trees and instead developed a plan to upgrade the field around them, Morgan said. Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. later dissolved the restraining order, finding that O'Reilly did not have personal standing in the case and would not suffer irreparable injury by the school board's actions.

King is expected either to grant a permanent restraining order within the coming weeks or dissolve the current temporary restraining order, which would allow school officials to continue removing the trees.

Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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