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Crew works to unearth LC Ghirardi oak

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Crew works to unearth LC Ghirardi oak

LEAGUE CITY — Men in hard hats wielding shovels and jackhammers crouched in a trench digging tunnels under a 100-year-old tree Thursday afternoon.

The men, employees of Hess Landscape Construction, are preparing the rare Compton oak, named the Ghirardi Oak after one of League City’s original Italian farming families, to be lifted out of the ground and moved about 1,500 feet.

The men began work May 9 and already have boxed in the sides of the oak’s root ball, said Erik Hess, president and owner of Hess. Once the workers dig all the way under the tree, steel beams will be put in place. The tree, almost 70 inches in diameter and in the way of a road-widening project, then will be ready to be lifted and moved to its new location, he said.

Special Care

By hand digging, the workers can look for any roots that might be down deeper. Other companies will mechanically drive steel pipe below the tree, Hess said.

“Sometimes you’ll get into a root mass underneath the tree, and if you push through that, you’ll kill the tree,” he said.

His method, while more labor-intensive, ensures no damage comes to the tree’s deep roots, Hess said.

The tree’s root structure goes down about 3 feet, and the workers will dig at least 2 feet beyond that, Hess said.

Once the digging and placing of steel rods under the tree is complete, the tree and its root ball, which will weigh about 600,000 pounds, will be lifted by two cranes and placed on a steel plate. By laying down water in front of the plate, the tree and plate will be drug across a grass field to a new location on land donated by Clarence Ghirardi, a member of the family for which the tree is named, Hess said.

Once in its new home, a drainage and irrigation system will be built around the tree with check points to monitor its progress.

Even now, the tree and its health are checked daily. Hess said he is working with scientists and arborists from the Davey Resource Group as well as relying on his 18 years of experience in moving trees.

“It’s a living organism,” Hess said.

He likened the tree to a patient, and he said they are going to great lengths to make sure the pre-op, operation and the post care are done correctly.

So far, everything is going great, Hess said.

City Funding

City leaders spent months arguing what to do about the tree. It’s in the way of a joint county and city project to widen Louisiana Avenue. After much back and forth with the landowner, Ajay Jain, the city was able to buy the land needed for the road for about $395,000.

The council then decided to pay Hess $197,500, the lowest of three bids, to move the tree.

Along with Ghirardi’s donation of three-quarters of an acre next to a proposed city park, nonprofit organization Trees of Houston also agreed to donate $10,000 toward the cost of moving the tree. The rest of the money to move the tree will come from dedicated park fees, city staff said. Those fees are paid by developers and can be used for park projects only. If the money is not used within a certain time, it can go back to the developer.

Councilwoman Joanna Dawson said there was some concern because the city picked the low bidder, but so far, everything is going well.

“The tree looks good, and it looks like it is going to work,” Dawson said.

A Big Event

If everything stays on schedule, the tree could be lifted out of its hole June 5, Hess said.

“The city needs to have some bleachers set up because this is a big event,” Hess said.

As it is, he has set up cameras across the work sight and on the tree documenting the progress.

Hess said he understood some of the reservations some in the city have expressed to spending the money on moving the tree. In March, Councilman Dennis OKeeffe abstained from the vote to move the tree and said he could not see using taxpayer money for the project.

While it might seem expensive now, Hess said by spreading that cost over the life of the tree, it’s a minimal cost.

“It’s got another 700 years to grow,” Hess said. “How many kids will get to go under there and sit there? What stories will go along with that?”

Written by vaphc

May 25, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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