County’s plan to remove Coquina Beach trees meets opposition

County’s plan to remove Coquina Beach trees meets opposition
The Australian pine forest at Coquina Beach could be significantly impacted by a county project to remove trees like these. - Jake Spooner | Submitted

BRADENTON BEACH – City commissioners are surprised and dismayed to learn that Manatee County plans to remove up to 120 Australian pine trees from the south end of the Coquina Beach parking area.

The proposed tree removals are part of the first phase of a two-phase stormwater and drainage improvement project that includes paving the beach parking lots with permeable materials.

In response to calls received from city resident Mike Norman and others, Mayor John Chappie scheduled an emergency city commission meeting on Friday, May 24. The 45-minute session ended with Chappie being authorized to send County Administrator Cheri Coryea a letter expressing the commission’s concerns. The letter will include a request for county representatives to come before the commission to explain the county’s plans regarding tree removal and tree replacement.

Chappie said he’s heard that the number of trees to be removed has jumped from 30 to 60 to 120.

“We’ve had several residents that are up in arms. We understand they are invasive trees, but they have been a part of our community for decades. They provide a lot of shade. I’m very concerned with the increase in the number of healthy trees they say they’re going to remove,” Chappie said.

Chappie said when Norman called him he called Coryea.

“When she saw the number of trees to be removed she kind of pulled the reins back to slow it down so she would have time to inform the county commissioners what is happening here,” Chappie said.

County’s plan to remove Coquina Beach trees meets opposition
The current plans call for these trees to be removed to accommodate drainage improvements. – John Chappie | Submitted

Chappie said Coryea planned to discuss this matter with county commissioners on Tuesday. He added he does not recall tree removal being part of the plans the county submitted to the city when seeking a city-issued building permit. He also noted the city gave the county a substantial break on its permitting fees.

“I feel like we need to pump the brakes a little bit, look at the alternatives and see what else can be done,” said Bradenton Beach City Commissioner Jake Spooner. “It’s a beautiful forest down there.”

Spooner said the trees provide shade for humans and habitat for birds and animals. He also pointed out that they are part of the tree canopy that earned Bradenton Beach its Tree City USA designation. He suggested reconfiguring the project to reduce the need for tree removal.

“I would suggest going to the county and the guiding light should be save the trees, and everything flows below that.”
– Mike Norman, Bradenton Beach resident

Spooner said he called Manatee County Public Works Project Manager Michael Sturm after receiving calls from Norman and several other residents and Sturm suggested residents contact him directly. Sturm’s email address is [email protected]

The project engineers and designers need to explain to the commission their plans and potential alternatives, the commissioner said. If trees must be removed, he said he’d like them replaced with mature trees.

“I think it’s been 15 years since those gumbos were planted on the causeway and they’re still not where you can park a car under them and get some nice shade,” he said.

He said people park under the trees at Coquina Beach so their cars aren’t so hot when they return from the beach.

County’s plan to remove Coquina Beach trees meets opposition
This sign designates the construction area at the south end of the Coquina Beach parking lot. – Jake Spooner | Submitted

“I was really caught off guard by this. Thank goodness it was in The Sun and Mr. Norman called me and we’re able to at least try to do something to save them,” Spooner said of the photograph published in last week’s Sun.

County’s plan to remove Coquina Beach trees meets opposition
More than 100 Australian pines are targeted for removal on Coquina Beach. This photo in The Sun brought the plan to the attention of Bradenton Beach officials. – Cindy Lane | Sun

Commissioner Ralph Cole said he was unaware of the county’s plans and shocked by the number of trees slated for removal.

“I can’t believe they were going to remove all the shade. I could see if you had to remove some or thin out some to put a pathway through, but not removing all of them,” Cole said.

City Commissioner Marilyn Maro said the city should have been informed of the county’s plans.

“I didn’t know anything about this. The people have voiced their opinion and I think they should voice more of their opinions. Something is missing in the puzzle here,” she said.

Additional input

County’s plan to remove Coquina Beach trees meets opposition
Several Australian pines now bear a red X that designates their planned removal. – Jake Spooner | Submitted

“People on this Island don’t want those trees cut down,” Norman told the commission. “I would suggest going to the county and the guiding light should be save the trees, and everything flows below that. Task the engineers with Plan B. If you can’t figure it out, find some engineers that can because there has to be a better way of doing this.”

City resident and planning and zoning board member John Burns noted the city’s land development code does not require a permit to remove Australian pines. He suggested asking the county’s arborist what measures could be taken to preserve as many as possible.

“It is nice to have some shade down there and I don’t care whether it’s invasive shade,” Burns said.

Before receiving unanimous commission support to send a letter to Coryea, Chappie echoed Norman’s comments and said, “The guiding light needs to be saving the Australian pine trees.”