By Mimi Wood, Island Eye News Staff Writer
In contemplating the various ways one might commemorate Earth Day, relocating a huge, 125,000-pound tree probably wouldn’t top the list. Likewise, in considering various ways to spend $50,000 when building a home, one would undoubtedly envision innumerable options before “moving a tree” popped into mind.
However, that’s exactly what happened just about a year ago, when a 100-year old live oak was moved approximately 50’ on an oceanfront lot at 2602 Palm Boulevard, at a cost exceeding $50,000.
Plans for an L-shaped house, built “around” the enormous tree, were included in the sale of the lot when the current owner, Mel Miles, bought it in 2015. The previous owner had begun to prune the gorgeous oak; a legal means of reducing its size to accommodate a larger home on the lot. And while Isle of Palms city code provides that Miles could have continued in this vein, he began to explore the option of moving the tree.
“The prior method of aggressively pruning up to 20 percent annually would have reduced the mass of the tree by over 50 percent,” Miles calculates.
Although the cost of moving the tree was nearly 10 times the cost of pruning, Miles chose to move the tree, “because a majestic live oak could be saved.” The “increase in value by showcasing such a beautiful tree in front of the home” was also considered in Miles’ somewhat risky decision to undertake the tree’s relocation.
Risky, because there was no guarantee that the tree would survive. In the event the tree does die within two years of the initial moving date, Miles is responsible to replace the biomass, no small expense in addition to the what’s already been spent on both the relocation and aftercare.
Environmental Design/Davey executed the project, from hand pruning the gigantic 32’ root ball, to rolling the tree to its new location, using a grid of pipes and inflatable bladders. The transplant is “the first of its kind on Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s,” according to Miles.
Miles offers kudos to the IOP Building Department “for having the foresight to allow this process” to be tested. The process “allows the city to hold relocation in a different light,” remarked Douglass Kerr, Director of Building, Planning and Zoning for IOP. Prior to this, Kerr explained, tree spading, wherein a tree is mechanically dug and ripped from the soil, was employed, with “no good results.”
The procedure employed by Environmental Design/Davey was so successful that a second live oak was moved on IOP on April 6.
“This is a baby compared to what we usually do,” observed Ray Pickett, working on site at 2303 Waterway, as a similar, albeit smaller tree was being moved. “It’s the same process for every tree,” he continued, and “they all survive.” The tree at 2602 Palm is doing far more than surviving, however.
Flourishing, this glorious Southern live oak enhances the island, as one of the few live oaks fronting Palm Boulevard.
“This process is a great example of how environmentalists, conservationists, and developers can all achieve the same goal, by gathering pertinent facts and communicating,” observes Miles.