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Former city of Charleston urban forester Danny Burbage says a tree preservation plan needs to be developed before the DOT moves ahead with plans to widen S.C. Highway 61 in Dorchester County, add paved shoulders and create a tree-free zone. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

The South Carolina Department of Transportation is proposing to widen the road and shoulders of Ashley River Road in a portion of Dorchester County. Many have responded. For 35 years, I served as urban forester for the city of Charleston and would like to contribute another perspective.

The trees within the public right of way of this project area form an iconic canopy that is a cultural gem of the Lowcountry. These trees should be preserved whenever possible. To simultaneously help to ensure the safety of people using the road and to conserve the life, health and vigor of as many trees as possible, DOT should arrange for a qualified arborist to conduct and publish a Tree Preservation Plan and a Tree Risk Assessment. DOT already has an Arborist’s Survey, but these seldom report more than tree species, size and a general condition of specified trees. By scientifically gathering more detailed information, travelers and trees alike can be saved. This dual preservation should justify some additional cost.

The Tree Preservation Plan should address trees along the entire project length. The plan also should be an integral part of the project design and be completed long before the first piece of equipment is started up. It should recommend prophylactic ways to protect and preserve as many trees as possible prior to construction as well as methods to mitigate any damage caused by the construction such as trunk and limb wounds, root damage and soil compaction.

A few years ago, a Tree Preservation Plan was formulated before any road widening occurred on Maybank Highway between the Paul Gelegotis Bridge and River Road. Those recommendations and their implementation saved trees.

A Tree Preservation Plan for S.C. Highway 61 should include the species for each tree over 18 inches diameter at breast height (DBH). It also should include the DBH; a description of general health and vigor; ways in which the road widening project might affect the life, health and vigor of the tree; ways to protect trees from damage before it occurs; and, when applicable, ways to mitigate damage done to trees during the project such as limb pruning, root pruning, mulching and soil aeration.

A Level 2 Basic Tree Risk Assessment as prescribed by the International Society of Arboriculture should be conducted for each tree, 18 inches DBH and greater. A Tree Risk Assessment should point out any trees that are so structurally unsound they pose a risk of failure into the road, and the most appropriate method of mitigating that risk should be identified.

Protecting road users from these risks certainly is worth the effort and the cost of a Tree Risk Assessment. The Tree Preservation Report and the Tree Risk Assessment should be accomplished by a person who is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist who also holds a Tree Risk Assessment Qualification.

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Scientists have documented the many benefits of community trees. Those include temperature reduction by as much as 15 degrees, cleaner air, carbon dioxide reduction and oxygen generation, protection against soil erosion, mitigation of stormwater runoff and flooding potential, property value enhancement, economic stimulation, and positive physical and mental health.

These benefits have specific application to Ashley River Road. The tree canopy cools the road which inhibits the condensation of liquids that escape from cars, such as antifreeze and oil, into toxic gases. Sequestration of carbon dioxide and generation of oxygen helps to mitigate the greenhouse effect. Tree roots hold soil in place, preserving the value of land. As raindrops hit tree leaves, the rain is slowed down as it travels to the ground, helping to avoid puddling and sheeting on the road and inundation of drainage ditches.

Additionally, tree roots take up water and reduce the potential for flooding. Properties all along Highway 61 benefit economically from the tree canopy. As stated, it has been shown that trees enhance property values, in general. Further, the intimacy provided by the tree canopy is a vital part of the visitor’s experience to the historic properties along the road. The trees provide a sense of place, signaling to travelers that they are in the unique and special Lowcountry, and offer an emotional and physical respite from busy, urban lives.

Danny Burbage of Summerville formerly was the urban forester for the city of Charleston.

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