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Century-old trees to be features in development
This 150-year-old live oak was moved about one-eighth of a mile. - photo by J Holthaus

Two live oak trees "walked the earth" this week in Bryan County.

The trees are located down Hwy. 144 and Oak Level Road, within the Water Ways Township development, formerly known as Genesis Point. Both trees are roughly 80 feet tall and 100 feet wide and are estimated to be nearly 150 years old.

"This site had been timbered for years – but these two trees had never been taken down. It just didn’t make any sense to kill them," said Ron Lamm, project manager with the development company, Fletcher Management. "We’re moving the larger of the two trees today, into what will be our entrance roundabout. Both trees are going to be highlighted as aesthetic features within the community."

Lamm said the site was a relatively open space to begin with, so it made more sense to move the trees closer to the tree line. The area where the trees originally grew will one day be the community’s Village Center.

Lamm said Fletcher Management has notoriously had a "soft hand" when it comes to the environment. It is estimated the total cost of preparing the trees to be moved, relocating them and continuing to upkeep them for the rest of their lives will run about $30,000 per tree.

Andy Hollon is the project manager for Environmental Design and has moved trees all over the world.

"The roots of these trees were pruned about two months ago in preparation for the move," Hollon said, noting the company has a 98 percent success rate of moving a tree. "You don’t see live oaks with deep root systems, especially in low lying, swampy areas like this one."

Hollon said he’s had more than one tree fall down on him in his career, but usually the tree’s own weight holds it in place, along with several 20-foot-long pipes that run underneath the root ball that are cabled to two 30 foot steel plates, used to help pull the tree across the ground. On Tuesday, the larger of the two trees – weighing an estimated 300,000 pounds – was moved about one-eighth of a mile. Hollon said the shorter the move, the better the root ball holds up.

"This was a very successful move, the root ball held together very well," he said.

The tree’s root ball is about three feet deep and 32 feet in diameter. Its relocation to the roundabout will provide a diameter of 96 feet of green space. One of the development’s landscape architects Donny Podany, of Prosser Hallock in Jacksonville, Fla., said the tree will look "awesome" in its new space.

"It looks like this area was made for the tree," he said. "It has worked out so nicely."

Hollon said it’s hard to tell if a tree has taken to its new location, noting it could decline for the next five to seven years before anyone would notice just by looking at it. Lamm said they will hire an arborist to check on the trees periodically and make sure the root systems are healthy and taking to their new location.

Wednesday, the smaller and slightly younger tree was moved about a half-mile to its new location, close to the first live oak and near what will be part of a three mile long lagoon.

Water Ways Township spans more than 2,300 acres and has been zoned for somewhere around 3,000 units.

Management Company President Paul Fletcher described the tract as "the prettiest piece of land we’ve ever been involved with" earlier this year and said the company is "interested in protecting the quality" of the site.

There are stretches of live oak canopies along the edge of the site that will all be kept intact, he said.

Officials estimate the entire project to take 15 to 25 years.

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