The image of the slaughtered palms along Caroline Street will take a while for residents of Santa Rosa County to forget. As a result, the Press Gazette still receives phone calls and editorials about the "waste of money." One Facebook comment encouraged constituents to "get involved....elections are coming up." One recent editorial says you can eat the heart of palm and estimates the value of the trees as being in the thousands.
Milton City Councilman Wesley Meiss says he's received many negative comments regarding the chopping of the palm trees and Councilwoman Pat Lunsford says she was very upset when she saw the trees being cut and left on the median. "I just want the people of Milton to know I had nothing to do with this mess." says Lunsford.
Milton City Manager Brian Watkins and Planning Director Randy Jorgenson both say in hind site they would have found a better method and stipulated with the contractor a process of removal of the palms. However, says Watkins, Piney Grove Nursery & Landscaping was effective in the removal because of the extreme measures which would've been taken to remove the trees and replanted.
Lee Willingham, head of landscaping department at the city, says the average size of root balls of palms 20 to 30 ft tall would be around 10 to 12 feet in diameter. "You would need a large flat bed trailer to carry them off and possibly shut down Highway 90 to remove them," he says.
Watkins says the contractor worked in the safest, easiest and cheapest way, within a narrow median plus managing traffic, also careful not to impede on natural gas pipelines and fiber optic cables underneath the highway.
Jorgenson says the preparation for a median-improvement, being part of the beautification plan was submitted to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) median improvement project and approved. The city was given a FDOT grant of $150,000 for median improvements. The removal of the palms was implementing the plan but the city did not know the contractor would leave the chopped trees in the median for all of Santa Rosa County residents to see.
Watkins says the FDOT median improvement project rules are different than they were back in 1996 when the palms and shrubs were planted. Current policy necessitate much regulation and details, such as clear site lines and trees being at least 100 feet away from a turn lane.
Jorgenson says once the people of Santa Rosa County gets a look next year at the new design, they will be pleased. He says he expects the color along the medians will be a nice addition.
As far as the questions about whether or not the new plants will weather the winter freeze, he says "the plants are hardy." He continues to say this time of year is one of the better times for planting because the foliage is dormant and do not require much maintenance. "The plants chosen can withstand variant temperatures," he says.