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Old Chesapeake Oak Spared From Highway Expansion

Looks like the Virginia’s fifth largest live oak tree has been granted amnesty.

Tue May 31, 2016 - Northeast Edition
Victoria Bourne - The Virginia

Looks like the Virginia’s fifth largest live oak tree has been granted amnesty.
Looks like the Virginia’s fifth largest live oak tree has been granted amnesty.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) Looks like the state's fifth largest live oak tree has been granted amnesty, according to a memo sent to the City Council on May 16.

The live oak is likely hundreds of years old and sits along a section of Portsmouth Boulevard that is set to be expanded from two to four lanes. A retention pond in the original construction plans would have required removal of the tree.

In the memo, Eric Martin, the city's director of public works, noted a Virginian-Pilot story about the tree that ran recently.

“Staff has since directed the design consultant to redesign the retention area to preserve the tree,” he wrote. “Additionally, the construction contract will require monitoring of the tree by a certified arborist throughout construction.”

“Awesome!” said Gary Williamson. He was one of two volunteers who measured and nominated the live oak for Virginia Tech's big tree program six years ago.

“I think it's a fine idea to have an arborist,” Williamson added. “The more expertise you get regarding that tree, the better.”

Williamson volunteered to pull on his work gloves and pull up the weeds and clinging vines that currently obscure much of the tree from view.

“I'm glad to hear they're gonna do what they can to keep it from meeting its demise,” said Robert Johnson, who has driven past the tree many times over the years.

The Suffolk resident recently took a Sunday drive with his wife so she could get a closer look at the tree.

“She was very impressed,” he said. “It's awe-inspiring when you walk up to it.”

And now even more people will get to see the tree, he said.

Hopefully someone will get out there and clean it up, Johnson added, though according to Elizabeth Vaughn, a spokeswoman with the city's Department of Public Works, there are no imminent plans to do so.

“We won't be doing anything around it before construction begins,” Vaughn wrote in an email.

After the Pilot story ran, Vaughn said the city heard from a handful of residents in favor of saving the tree. Facebook posts on the Western Branch — Growing Forward page about the tree also garnered a number of responses.

“How nice!” Glory Carnes Buyrn wrote. “I hope that the tree will also become more visible after construction for all to admire.”

From the city's perspective, Vaughn said it was absolutely worth taking another look at the plans in order to preserve the “impressive” tree.

“When we discovered we could make some modest changes while still working within our existing design,” she said, “it was apparent that saving the tree was just the right thing to do.”

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