BRADENTON BEACH – More than 100 Australian pine trees designated for removal at the south end of the Coquina Beach parking lot will not be removed, at least until Manatee County commissioners review a comprehensive staff report on the project.
County Administrator Cheri Coryea announced the delay during the county commission’s Tuesday, May 28 budget work session, responding to remarks made by Bradenton Beach Mayor John Chappie during citizens’ comments.
On Friday, May 24, the Bradenton Beach Commission held an emergency meeting and authorized Chappie to send Coryea a letter expressing the commission’s concerns about the proposed tree removals and the lack of communication from the county about the plans.
Heavy equipment is already on site and some preliminary work has occurred for the first phase of the two-phase Coquina Beach drainage and parking lot improvement project.
In May, Manatee Public Works Department Project Manager Michael Sturm sent county staffers Carmine DeMilio and Jeff Streitmatter an email containing the subject line: “Coquina Phase 1 Australian Pine Removal.”
No one representing the city of Bradenton Beach was copied on Sturm’s email, which states, “The certified Arborist has determined that the trees shown on the attached PDF are a risk for beach visitors if left in place. His conversation was that the 10-inch-deep excavation that will occur to construct the curb located on each side of the concrete drive and parking areas will threaten the stability of the shallow foundation roots known to occur with Australian pine trees. His recommendation was to remove 102 trees. I have also included the cost associated with the removal and disposal of the trees.”
Dated May 9, the attached $144,441 change order submitted by Woodruff & Sons included $71,775 for tree removal and $2,652 for root pruning by Terry’s Tree Service. When addressing the county commission, Chappie referenced the change order, which he first saw earlier that day.
The drainage and parking project at the county-owned beach requires a city-issued building permit. On April 10, the county received from the city a land use and zoning permit. The permitting request presented to city commissioners earlier this year included no mention of tree removals.
The county’s original 100 percent design documents include language that says the contractor shall protect all existing structures, utilities, driveways, sidewalks, fences, trees and landscaping or repair or replace them to equal or better than pre-construction conditions. The design document also says, “All existing trees shall remain unless otherwise noted.”
Mayor addresses county
Chappie thanked Coryea for her quick response to the city’s letter before reading it aloud to county commissioners.
“The city of Bradenton Beach is adamantly opposed to the trees being removed. We are extremely hopeful the county will not follow through with such a disturbing act that would change the great character of Coquina Beach.
“Australian pines, despite their designation as an invasive nuisance tree, do provide tremendous benefits for our residents, visitors, as well as the birds and wildlife. This is the right plant in the right location. Further, there are no homes or structures in danger of being harmed by a limb or tree. These trees enhance the park and provide a tremendous tree canopy for the south end of the Island,” Chappie said.
“We strongly encourage the county commission to take some time and reconsider the destruction and removal of the Australian pine canopies. The guiding light needs to be ‘Save the trees.’ This is a large park, there are significant open area spaces. I believe there is great opportunity for us to be creative and the city would be more than happy to assist. The city is also requesting a special city commission meeting with a county representative to explain this plan. We just want to understand what’s going on,” Chappie said.
Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she sent Coryea an email containing questions she has about the tree removals and project contract.
Commissioner Betsy Benac said, “Those trees provide shade. As we all know from this weekend, shade is invaluable. I’ve heard many stories about Australian pines and that they aren’t good for habitat. Well, they’re good for this habitat. I certainly would want to do everything we can to save the shade.”
Coryea said, “We anticipated possibly giving you information, but as this unfolded over the last day or so we would rather quickly pull together a full and comprehensive report. We want to look at how many trees in totality are in that area and give you some idea of the approach of what that removal is.
“There’s no removal today. We held them off. We will plan to act quickly though,” Coryea said, noting delays incurred now could impact the project timeline in January or February.
“So, we’re not doing anything until we hear from you guys?” Whitmore asked.
“There’s no removal that’s going to happen today,” Coryea said.
“You just said ‘today,’ ” Whitmore responded.
Coryea clarified no tree removals would occur until county commissioners reviewed the staff report.
“We don’t want to put our project at risk either. We’ll make sure we’re back here shortly,” Coryea said.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh asked if another type of tree could be planted to replace the Australian pines removed. Coryea said that would also be included in the report.
“I just don’t want a line of new palm trees, that’s no shade,” Whitmore said.
In response to comments she saw posted on Facebook, Whitmore also stated the Town of Longboat Key is not involved with the Coquina Beach project.
On Wednesday, May 29, Manatee County Information Outreach Manager Nick Azzara addressed the tree removals in an email he sent to a television journalist. He later shared that email with The Sun.
“There are no plans to remove all the Australian pines at Coquina Beach and there are no plans to remove trees that provide shade along the nearby exercise trail. There are nearly 1,100 Australian pines there today and a small percentage are recommended for removal,” Azzara wrote.
At week’s end, the staff report had not yet been presented and no additional public discussion had occurred. The county commission has a budget work session at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 4 and a land use meeting at 9 a.m. on Thursday, June 6.