BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) The state has agreed to pay $300,000 to move a massive, 150-year-old oak tree in Iberia Parish within the next few weeks in order to complete a service road along U.S. Highway 90.
Bill Fontenot, a regional administrator of the state Department of Transportation and Development, said the department agreed not to cut down the tree — called “Mr. Al” by local residents — after several residents and the Optimist Club of New Iberia petitioned to save it.
Fontenot told The Daily Iberian that the tree will be moved within 30 days, allowing the road project to be completed in the beginning of summer.
“The decision to preserve the tree was made a couple of years ago when the project went out to bid,” Fontenot said.
Officials considered cutting down the tree and building on either side of the tree, allowing it to obstruct the roadway.
“It was decided by Louisiana DOTD at the time to allow the tree to remain and just have the service roads come to a dead end on either side of the tree,” he said.
Fontenot said the idea to move the tree came from the efforts to save another giant oak, which supporters have dubbed the “Youngsville Heritage Oak,” from being destroyed due to obstructing the building of another roadway.
Houston-based Environmental Design Inc. specializes in transplanting large trees and, according to Fontenot, has a 95 percent success rate in uprooting and replanting the trees in a manner to keep them intact and healthy.
“Mr. Al” will be relocated near the off ramp of the intersection of U.S. 90 and Jefferson Terrace Boulevard, he said.
“So we are optimistic about the survival of the tree and we look forward to it standing in its new location,” he said. “It’s a nice open space, it won’t interfere with traffic and it’s within a reasonable distance for the tree’s existing location.”
“Mr. Al” was named by nearby resident Kelli Peltier in memory of her grandfather Al Jolet.
Susan Hester Edmunds was president of the Optimist Club of New Iberia in 2008 and 2009 when locals rallied to save the tree. Each year the club promotes planting new trees, she said, and advocating saving the giant oak went along with the club’s message of environmental responsibility.
“Certainly if we are charged with planting trees there is no reason we can’t try to keep one from being cut down,” Edmunds said.
Edmunds said giant oaks are the signature part of what draws tourists to South Louisiana. Planting trees is practical, she said, adding that trees are proven to serve as protective wind barriers during hurricanes.