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Environment: Sierra Club won't battle for live oak protection – at the moment

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The Sierra Club’s Winyah group isn’t ready to give up on getting protections put back in place for trees on single-family residential property. But after hearing this week from Boyd Johnson, Georgetown County planning director, most agree now isn’t the best time to pursue the matter.

“I think the issue of trees will be coming back up. It’s just a matter of when,” said Johnson, who was the group’s guest speaker on Monday. “This is an election year. Folks don’t like a lot of controversy during election years.”

The implication was that a tree protection amendment would probably have a better chance of getting through at another time, something members were reluctantly willing to accept. As a result, they aren’t likely to fill council chambers next week when council has its first meeting since tabling an amendment that would have given protections to very large live oak trees on Waccamaw Neck.

By tabling the amendment last month – with no discussion – council essentially killed it.

Sierra Club members talked about going in large numbers to the meeting to ask council to reintroduce the amendment.

However, Johnson essentially said he thought it would be a waste of time at this point. Bo Ives, the group’s chairman, said he had gotten the same impression from private discussions with a member of council.

“I’m told it’s dead in the water,” Ives said.

It was suggested the club’s efforts might be better directed to forming alliances with other groups that share their views, so when the issue does surface again there is a larger number of people willing to speak out for it.

One club member continued to push for going to council next week and asking the issue to be brought back for a vote, but received no encouragement.

Tree protections were removed from occupied single-family properties in 2010 when council updated its tree ordinance. While that was considered a loss for environmentalists, Johnson pointed out that some gains were made for tree protection with the update. Those who illegally cut trees now have to pay a $500 per tree fine. Trees in waterways and longleaf pines on the Waccamaw Neck gained protections. And developers are now required to plot trees when planning a new subdivision and can be required to alter building plans to accommodate trees.

“We had done that informally in the past and never been challenged on it, but there was nothing saying clearly we could do that,” Johnson said. “That’s preventative medicine, I guess, but it will help a lot.”

Johnson was invited to speak to the club to offer perspective on how his department functions and the best ways for the public to have input as decisions are made at a local level. He was asked specifically about trees, but also addressed a number of other issues the planning department has been dealing with.

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