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Ask a Journalist: Whoa! Where are those trees going?

Live Oak trees on South 17th St. being prepared for relocation.
Benjamin Schachtman
Live Oak trees on South 17th St. being prepared for relocation.

Readers and listeners reached out to WHQR this week after seeing Live Oak trees on the back of trucks, traveling down South 17th Street. They had lots of questions, like: what’s happening? Where are the trees going? Who’s paying to move them? We’ve got answers.

Kelly Kenoyer: OK Ben, here’s a voicemail we got from a listener:

Listener message: I have been noticing that the large oak trees in the median adjacent to the Pointe shopping center are being prepared to be moved and are in fact being moved right now. And I just thought it would be an interesting story, if you're not following it already, about why they're being moved, where are they being moved to, and who's paying for this?

KK: Those are some good questions! Ben you looked into this, what did you find?

Ben Schachtman: Well, Kelly, I had a few people reach out to me about this and I drove down South 17th to the Pointe development and, sure enough, they were excavating several Live Oak trees and wrapping and binding their roots for transport. That looks like it’s been going on over the last week or two — and this week it looks like one or two has already been moved. I’ve had a few people send me photos of these trees moving down South 17th – one lane is closed down there in either direction — and some people didn’t realize you even could actually move trees like this, but you can.

KK: So what’s going on here? Who’s moving them?

BS: So the Barclay development that's there on South 17th just south of Independence needs a new turn lane. This is required to deal with the extra traffic that's coming in and out of that development. And that new turn lane means five of these Live Oak trees are kind of in the way. And ordinarily, they would be cut down in the process — there's no requirement for the developer to save them.

But back in March, the city decided it wanted to save the trees. The city told me they actually designed this stretch of South 17th to be one of the longest tree-lined roads in Wilmington, and the city is proud of it. So back in March, City Council voted unanimously to foot the bill. It's around $180,000 to move the trees.

Now at the time, some council members did note this is a lot of money. But the city doesn't have its own specialized equipment that it would need to move trees like this, so it had to contract with a company. According to city staff, it’s actually the same company that moved the large Live Oak up in Ogden when the Publix there was built back in 2017. Some longer-term Wilmington residents might remember that.

Below: The 2017 relocation of the 'Odgen Oak.'

That relocation was paid for by the developer, I believe it was around $80,000 to move that 250-year-old tree. This time the city is paying for it. And it's using money from a dedicated tree mitigation fund. That's a fund that developers pay into when they cut down more trees than the city's tree plan would ordinarily allow.

KK: And where are the trees going?

BS: That’s an easy one — they’re not going far! They’re going to stay on South 17th — the city said there’s a few spots where some of the original trees have been lost.

KK: Ok, so, I have to ask, what are the odds that the trees survive this move?

BS: That’s a tougher one. Experts we talked to said relocations like this can be traumatic for Live Oaks — their root networks really spread out close to the surface, and have to be pruned back a bit to move them. So, trees like this can definitely die after they’re moved. But, it’s worth noting that, a chance at survival is better than definitely being razed for construction — and, also, these are younger trees, which have a better chance of surviving being dug up and moved!

KK: Ok, Ben, thanks for digging into this. Pardon the pun.

BS: You’re welcome — and thanks to our listeners for continuing to send us good questions for journalists to answer.

KK: If you have questions for journalists in the newsroom. Send us an email at staffnews@Whqr.org

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.
Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.