FAIRHOPE – The city of Fairhope will replace 24 new trees planted earlier this month with larger versions of the same species after the first plantings were much smaller than expected.
The Fairhope City Council voted Monday, Aug. 24, to buy up to 24 additional trees to be planted on Section Street between Fairhope Avenue and Magnolia Avenue at a maximum cost of $25,060.
The trees will be purchased from Moon Valley Nursery, the same company that provided the original trees.
Council members said that when the approved the original purchase of 55 trees in May, they were told that the Chinese pistaches would be 12 to 14 feet tall. Some trees that were planted were about seven feet tall, they said.
City officials said Monday that the new trees would be at least 12 feet tall when planted or they will be rejected and sent back to the company.
Richard Johnson, public works director, said the trees will also have to have a diameter of at least 2 ½ inches measured with a caliper.
“We did not get a minimum caliper, which we have asked them,” Johnson said. “Two and a half-inch would be the minimum caliper that would be acceptable and the height and we could verify that and basically let them know that before we unload them from the truck, we’re going to measure them and if they’re not, we’re going to reject whatever’s on that load.”
Councilman Kevin Boone asked why the first load was accepted.
“If I had done this at my house and these trees came in and they’re not the 12-footers I ordered, No. 1, why were they unloaded? Second of all, why would they even be planted? I mean we’re talking seven feet shorter,” Boone said. “I’m not following.”
Johnson said he took responsibility for ordering the smaller, and cheaper, variety of tree.
“This is 100 percent on me, when I looked at the cost variations between the sizes of the tree, it was very hard for me to recommend to you to buy a tree for three times the amount of the smaller size knowing that the smaller size would be the larger size in a period of time and that was a mistake,” Johnson said.
The council voted May 28 to buy 55 Chinese pistache trees to replace willow oaks that were growing too large for their location along Section Street. The trees were beginning to damage pavers and curbs, Johnson said. The trees cost $22,480.
Johnson said the trees from the first purchase will be replanted in parks and other city-owned locations around Fairhope.
Some of the willow oaks, planted between 2002 and 2005, were taller than the two-story buildings on Section Street. Councilman Jimmy Conyers said some residents were surprised by the small size of the new trees.
“I was already anticipating a little bit of a shock to the system and I think we’re just trying to minimize the extent of the shock with the size of the trees,” Conyers said. “A few extra feet would definitely go a long way.”
The willow oaks that have not been cut down will be left in place until around early 2021. Johnson said that the city’s expense for trees cannot exceed $50,000 without going out for bids. He said that total includes the original purchase and the second order of trees.
If more trees are needed, they can be ordered in 2021 under a new city budget, Johnson said.
Patrick Waldrop, a member of the Fairhope Tree Committee, said the Chinese pistache trees should be in place longer than the willow oaks or earlier trees. He said at least one Chinese pistache planted at Bryce Hospital 120 years ago is still growing.
“We were looking then at a 50-year lifespan,” Waldrop said. “That was one of the things the Tree Committee looked at. We don’t need to be changing out stuff every 25 or 30 years. We need to look at something that’s going to outlive us.”