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Crawford Field oak trees lose protective order

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After about a century shading what is now the end zone of St. Albans High School's football field, the two pin oak trees that line the field look all but doomed.

Kanawha County Judge Charles E. King on Monday dissolved a temporary restraining order that a St. Albans man had filed against school officials, who had hired crews to remove the trees over concerns that they were rotting. The school system is now free to proceed with the removal.

"I might quit or I'm going to get some legal advice and see if there's another possible legal step that I can take," said Pat O'Reilly, the St. Albans man who filed the restraining order against the school system.

In his ruling Monday, King found that O'Reilly did not have the authority to file a restraining order to protect the trees. Legally, a party must prove that they have standing in a case by demonstrating that he or she suffered an injury or invasion of an interest, along with other factors.

O'Reilly argued that because trees cannot fight for their right to exist, and because his tax dollars support the school system, he has the legal authority to file a restraining order. King did not agree.

"[O'Reilly] has not shown that he will suffer any irreparable injury if the trees are removed," King said in the ruling.

During a hearing last week, Mark Chatfield, the director of the biology department at West Virginia State University testified that the two trees appeared from a distance to be healthy but would require thousands of dollars of upkeep to keep them alive.

Chatfield admitted that he could not get a proper view of the trees because of a fence that the school district had placed around their perimeter during the initial removal phase.

A certified arborist hired by the school district to inspect the trees testified that the insides of the trees were rotted beyond repair and could not be managed.

"[O'Reilly]'s own expert testified that he would defer to the recommendations of a certified arborist," King said. "The certified arborist who testified recommended that both trees be removed."

O'Reilly said he has spent thousands of dollars over the past several decades helping to maintain the trees.

"It is preposterous that a judge would rule that I don't have standing," he said. "I don't think this is over yet. It's a long way from over, I would say."

O'Reilly said he will try to contact an attorney for advice on what to do next.

School officials first sought to remove the trees in 2007 under a plan to upgrade the football field. O'Reilly filed a restraining order then that eventually found its way to the state Supreme Court.

The school backed off of the removal then and opted instead to make the upgrades around the trees.

Officials once again renewed plans to take out the trees after heavy winds in June's storms had knocked down a branch weighing an estimated 1,000 pounds onto U.S. 60. No one was injured, but the school's contracted experts said the trees would continue to rot and pose a threat to motorists on the roadway and players on the football field.

Kanawha County Schools maintenance director Terry Hollandsworth said that because of storms this week, crews would not be able to remove the trees until next Monday.

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


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