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Oak’s asphalt may become garden

A couple years ago, a tree expert expert warned that the ailing Garry oak tree at the Oak Harbor Post Office could bring its great arm-like branches down and squash a car or a person like a grape.

Last year, an oak tree expert concluded that the landmark tree was sick because its roots were smothered underneath asphalt that, to add insult to injury, cars were driving on everyday.

Now the city may have a solution to both problems.

An Oak Harbor City Council subcommittee met Wednesday to discuss three possible options for removing the impervious surface around the oak tree.

The city hired oak aficionado Darlene Southworth, professor emeritus in the biology department at Southern Oregon University, to analyze the tree last fall. She concluded that the tree is suffering from a fungal disease, but it could live for many years more.

She outlined ways in which the city could improve the tree’s health. Most importantly, she said, is to remove the suffocating blacktop from three tree’s dripline.

The giant oak, which she estimates to be more than 350 years old, barely escaped the axe last year. The city council voted to cut the tree down, based on advice from an arborist who said it was a safety risk. If the tree rots, he said, a limb could fall and maim someone.

Councilwoman Sheilah Crider talked her fellow council members into saving the tree just days before it was supposed to be cut down.

Wednesday, Development Director Steve Powers outlined three options that Southworth suggested for improving the health of the tree. He noted that it would also protect the community since cars and pedestrians wouldn’t be under the tree.

One option, estimated at $13,700, would do away with six parking spaces, four in the post office parking lot next to the tree and two on the street. Workers would dig up the asphalt and turn the parking spaces and a portion of City Beach Street into a garden or planter. The street would remain two-way.

The second option, estimated at $20,700, is the same as the first option, except that a larger portion of City Beach Street would be turned into a garden. City Beach Street would became a one-way street.

The third option, estimated at $12,700, could be combined with either the first or second option. The option would alter the driveway into the post office parking lot, do away with another parking spot and create more garden areas.

The committee members approve of the first two options, but weren’t very enthusiastic about the third idea.

City Administrator Thom Myers pointed out that the first two options could be funded by the $30,000 that council already allocated for the tree. He said the postmaster had agreed to work with the city.

“It’s quite simply a good solution,” he said, “that does not break the back of the city.”

The City Council will consider the options at a meeting this summer.

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