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Garry oak's diagnosis bleak

The health of Oak Harbor’s landmark Garry oak tree next to the post office isn’t good. Arborist Robert Williams gave the massive oak a health inspection in October and found that decay is expanding through the tree’s trunk.

Williams states in his recently-completed health report on the tree that “decay in the root crown is more advanced than decay within the trunk.”

Williams notes that there is no treatment for decay and the tree has a high potential for failure.

But don’t crank up the chainsaws yet.

“We’re looking at our options and alternatives to stabilizing the tree. Our first goal is to find out if there is some way to save the tree,” Mayor Patty Cohen said Thursday. While Cohen said she’s “very concerned” over the tree’s decay, she added, “We’re willing to take the steps to save this significant part of Oak Harbor’s history.”

City Parks Director Hank Nydam pointed out that Williams presented options that could add a few years to the tree’s existence at the post office. Removing asphalt and concrete that covers the tree’s roots, limiting parking near the tree and restricting sidewalk access, plus re-routing streets will be considered.

Williams’ report states that whatever measures are taken will only reduce the hazard and predicts, “At maximum, 10 years before the hazard becomes critical.”

Williams will present a workshop on the Garry oak to Oak Harbor City Council Tuesday, Jan. 7. The meeting will be open to the public.

“Everything really depends on what comes out of that meeting,” Nydam said.

Oak Harbor Postmaster Mike Harvey said he’ll cooperate fully with any idea the city has. “Even though the tree hangs over post office property, it’s the city’s tree. Bottom line, is people’s safety,” he said. “After reading the report, I saw many short term options. But the report is pretty clear that there aren’t many long term options,” Harvey said.

“It’s sad that such a landmark is in such poor condition.” Harvey said, adding that since October, people in the post office frequently ask what’s going on with the tree.

If the tree is removed, the city plans on replacing it with another Garry oak at that site.

Cohen said when she heard about the work being done at the tree in October, she went down and stood at the base of the oak.

“I was truly absorbed by its greatness,” she said with a catch in her voice. “The size and grandeur of its branches extending over the city reconnected me with the city’s past. If we find the tree poses a huge risk and great danger, and ultimately must be removed, we will replace the tree. The Garry oak story in Oak Harbor must continue.”

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