Downed trees draw ire in Sunset Beach

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SUNSET BEACH — Trees being cut down by a contracted crew in the new town park have sparked outrage from residents who apparently aren’t aware the work was approved months ago, town officials said.

In the past week, The Brunswick Beacon and town officials have been contacted by concerned residents who complained taking down the trees is unnecessary.

But town council members said this week they have been discussing for months the need for the work that has consisted of taking down 15 diseased or structurally defective trees as development of the 5.22-acre park gets under way.

Council members reiterated that at their monthly workshop Tuesday, after Mayor Richard Cerrato said many people are angered and he is confused.

Town councilman Lou DeVita said the work was announced at the previous town council meeting. Fellow council member Carol Scott said council accepted a bid for the work to be done at its Sept. 24 workshop.

Prior to that, Scott said, the matter had been discussed at a number of council workshops and a vote was previously taken for the town to proceed with a contractor to remove the trees. Scott cast the only dissenting vote at the Sept. 24 meeting.

Sunset Beach Town Administrator Gary Parker said park developer Withers & Ravenel encouraged the town to prepare the site by removing recommended trees. Parker said two arborists came in to examine the trees, as did an expert with the county extension service.

“Keep in mind the arborists’ focus is on tree preservation,” said Parker, adding he, town public works director Dustin Graham and Wilmington arborist Scott McGhee walked the site and looked at every tree.

“(McGhee) pointed out the reasons why those trees had to be removed,” Parker said.

Town councilwoman Karen Joseph said council members also walked the park and saw some trees that had already been marked for removal.

Joseph said the park consultants said no trees had to removed for construction purposes or design of trails.

“The only reason the trees were being removed was because of the reason Gary stated — disease and infection,” Joseph said, adding the town received four bids for the work.

Scott said an erroneous email has been circulating claiming specific trees were taken down to make way for park amenities.

“That is not true,” she said. “I know that none of those trees were removed because (they are) in the way of something else. There are so many charges, accusations and nefarious dealings. I am sick of this.”

Joseph said attorneys and arborists said there could be problems if the trees were to fall over on someone.

“We did (give) sufficient notice,” she said. “We have a responsibility, if you pay attention to that.”

Cerrato said the issue is citizens didn’t know.

“That’s only if they weren’t paying attention, mayor,” Parker said.

Katie Hovermale was among residents upset after the crew started taking down trees last week.

“I think it is very sad that these beautiful trees were sacrificed for a park so many residents do not really want,” Hovermale wrote in an email and letter to the editor.

Council response

Monday, Joseph issued a statement on behalf of town council that she said was to correct misinformation that has been circulating.

Joseph said the facts are:

• Four bids were received by the town. One company did not have proper insurance and was eliminated. Bid amounts were $12,700, $14,000, and $14,500, with the lowest bid accepted by a vote of council. 

• Wood from the fallen trees is being donated to low-income people to burn for heat in their homes.

• An investigation determined none of the men cutting the trees made a quoted comment that “these trees would still be standing long after we are gone.”

“Rather, we are told that the citizen made the comment,” Joseph wrote. “But if one of the cutters did make that comment, none of those ‘tree cutters’ are arborists and therefore are not experts accredited with the credentials of an arborist.” 

• An accusation that council never voted for the tree cutting is “patently untrue.” Joseph wrote. “The bid was accepted by a vote of the council and there were two discussions — one at a regular meeting and one at a work session. The individual claiming (there was) no council vote presided at both meetings but evidently paid no attention.”

Tuesday afternoon after council’s workshop, Cerrato sent an email to town clerk Lisa Anglin again requesting a copy of her handwritten notes from council sessions referencing the board’s approval to cut down the trees.

Cerrato continued to insist council never voted to have the trees removed.

He wrote if he did not receive the requested notes from Anglin by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, he would seek legal assistance from town attorney Michael Isenberg.

Laura Lewis is a staff writer for the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.