John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 20, 2009

John Howell Sr.

Tree cutting triggers angst, many will hold city’s feet to fire

This proposal to remove the Bradford pears on Highway 6 at its I-55 intersection to allow a beautification project that includes boulevard lighting and crape myrtles is not without angst and there’s reason for it. Batesville has an undistinguished history of cutting trees in the name of progress.

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At issue are some 20 trees with 10 each on the east and west sides of the interstate. Some are large and may have been planted as long as 30 years ago when the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) first issued the ladies of the Batesville Garden Club a permit to beautify the eastern approach to the city. They — horticulturist Emily Allen was alive and active in the garden club then — chose the Bradford pear for its beautiful early blooms and long-seasoned leaves that change from deep green to brilliant red with the seasons.

The garden club also raised money for the replacement trees that they knew would be necessary as years went by.

Fast forward 30 years to a new city beautification plan spearheaded by alderman Stan Harrison (see related story, page A1). After the plan received board approval in October, there was still an obstacle: MDOT would not allow the work to proceed without the approval of the garden club. After all, they held the permit.

That approval came by a narrow margin last week when the ladies of the garden club voted by secret ballot.

“Nobody in the club wanted to cut down trees,” garden club president Dale Jernigan said. Nor did the club want to block the city’s beautification plans, Jernigan said.

Former garden club president Cindy Allgood spoke at the meeting in favor of keeping the trees. Her history with the club runs deep. Her mother, Ellen Boyd, was among those who planted those first trees all those years ago.

Allgood said that she’s in favor of beautification. “Just don’t cut down all the Bradford pears,” she urged.

MDOT District Engineer Richard Allen has tread cautiously through the controversy and said as late as yesterday that the permit is still “under lock and key.”

“As much as we hate to see the trees go, the city has a plan,” Jernigan said.

Not only does the city have a beautification plan, it has a whole lot of people looking over its shoulder to be sure that it makes good on its plan. Those include present and former garden club members and other citizens and passersby who use the roadway. And also some dearly departed who’ll be rolling over in their graves when the chainsaws come out.