Charleston Trees

Cameron Wright and James Edwards of Eadie's Industrial Inc. use a sewer-jetting combo truck, also known as a Vactor, to remove dirt from around tree stump roots on Meeting Street on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Charleston is experimenting with this new way of removing street trees that does not involve ripping up the sidewalk. Instead, water guns and a vacuum are used to expose the root ball for cutting. Brad Nettles/Staff

A big wet blast killed the trees along Meeting Street, and a big wet blast removed them for good this week.

City of Charleston crews and contractors experimented just south of the City Market with a new way to remove the stumps from several Chinese elms damaged by Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Irma.

Instead of ripping up parts of the sidewalk and street to expose the roots for cutting, a special Vactor truck trained a high-pressure hose on the roots, blowing the soil away and suctioning out the slurry.

Once the root ball was exposed, workers could make the dozens of smaller cuts to sever the roots from the stump.

Charleston Trees

An employee of Eadie's Industrial Inc. uses a sewer-jetting combo truck to remove dirt from around tree stumps roots on Meeting Street on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. Charleston is experimenting with this new way of removing street trees that does not involve ripping up the sidewalk. Instead, water guns and a vacuum are used to expose the root ball for cutting. Brad Nettles/Staff

Jason Kronsberg, the city's director of parks, said city staff brainstormed the new technique to try to save time and money while removing dead street trees and readying their spots for new ones.

And it appeared to work well. Crews exposed and cut out and removed stumps in one or two hours. Had they used a more conventional approach, it would have taken a few days.

"Doing it this way we'll be able to get more done," Kronsburg said. 

More conventional digging also must be done relatively slowly and carefully, particularly downtown, because so many utility lines are interwoven with tree roots, said Edward Wilkerson, the city's assistant superintendent of forestry. He also favored using water instead.

"You wash everything away and see what's there," he said. "It will definitely speed up the stumps that are more complex."

Charleston Trees

Charleston Urban Forestry assistant superintendent Edward Wilkerson cuts tree stumps roots on Meeting Street on Wednesday, January 30, 2019, after employees with Eadie's Industrial Inc. used a water gun to remove the soil from around the roots. Charleston is experimenting with this new way of removing street trees that does not involve ripping up the sidewalk. Instead, water guns and a vacuum are used to expose the root ball for cutting. Brad Nettles/Staff

Other than some mud spatters, the hydro-excavating entailed relatively little mess. And it provided some minor amusement to passers by.

"Wow," said one woman late Wednesday morning. "You don't see that every day. That's pretty cool."

Charleston Trees

Charleston is experimenting with a new way of removing street trees that does not involve ripping up the sidewalk. Instead, water guns and a vacuum are used to expose the root ball for cutting. Brad Nettles/Staff

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Reach Robert Behre at 843-937-5771. Follow him on Twitter @RobertFBehre.