Tree dispute

The remains of a large tree at the corner of Putnam and Green streets in Marianna, shown here from various angles, have been decorated with Christmas lights, that action taken as a “statement” by a frustrated resident who lives in a house near the debris.

Connie Farnell lives near the intersection of Green and Putnam streets in Marianna. In front of her house lies the remains of an ancient live oak tree that was felled in Hurricane Michael. Pieces of it have been cut to make sure the fire hydrant is of use if needed, but very big pieces remain, all in the vicinity of utilities lines. With those things still on the landscape of Marianna’s historic district, Farnell’s frustration is growing.

It has reached this point: A few weeks ago she helped “decorate” those big pieces of the trunk with Christmas lights to draw attention to the fact that they’re still there nine months after the storm. It was meant as a statement, she says. She thinks it all should have been picked up long ago in the first phase of debris removal as contractors moved through the neighborhoods to get things off the rights-of-way.

Marianna City Manager Jim Dean said he’s not sure why the contractors didn’t get it the first time around, but that he has high hopes that it will be removed during the “final pass” now underway by county contractors who are also working in the city under a joint agreement between the two local governments.

Farnell thinks it’s a clear responsibility of the city that is dangerously long past due in fulfilling.

“We decided to decorate since promises made and not kept to remove have been broken,” Farnell alleged in an email regarding having added the lights to the tree. “This is a heavy traffic area and dangerous. Right over gas and water lines, cable and fire hydrant. We have tried to fill in the (seven) feet deep hole left by the uprooting of this 365 year old live oak.”

Dean says that letting it wait for the final pass could save tens of thousands of dollars—as an example, it could mean the equivalent of the difference between $5,000 and $50,000.

If it is removed properly under the FEMA reimbursement guidelines, the city would only be responsible for five percent of the cost. If it isn’t, the city would have to pick up the whole bill. It’s likely to be a big job, Dean said, and it would make little sense not to try and get it moved under that contract. And the city will have to wait its turn, Dean said, to see whether it will be eligible under the terms of such reimbursable costs.

“We’re anticipating, because (we believe) it is eligible debris, that will be picked up,” Dean sad. “It will require some special equipment to get that out of the right-of-way, and we’re anticipating the debris haulers will get it. If they don’t, then the city will have to do something to get that stump out of there. I agree with her, it’s on the right-of-way and creates some visuals, and it’s close to a hydrant. But there’s hundreds of instances within the city that create challenges, and we’re just trying to do what we can with the limited resources we have, and to use some of these resources available to the city without going out and creating special contracts. Worst case, the city will have to remove it, but shame on us if we spend $50,000 when it could have cost us $5,000. I sympathize, I empathize, but we have to work smart in dealing with it. We’re trying not to make costly mistakes. In the chaos and disruption around you in times like this it’s easy to point the finger and blame people for this not getting done, but we need to be patient and calculate how to best address it. We don’t need to be foolish. We have to think things through and make good decisions. Why would we not try to get that up and out of the way through the FEMA program if we can? I understand the frustration, and I’m not picking on her. But this is not on a major thoroughfare and we think it’s wiser to wait. Let’s try to be patient a little bit longer. Ultimately, it will be moved.”

Meanwhile, Farnell’s faith in the process has run dry. She says she’s talked to lawyers, and that she feels she’s been given the run around at best and “lied to” at worse.

The tree remains in the right-of-way as of Friday, a week into the final pass.

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