Money is often the driving force indecision-making today. But who decides the value of a tree? When this question was posed recently, a Commissioner in Nassau County quipped, “You can’t eat a tree.”
Downtown Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island reaps the rewards of visitors who come to enjoy the accommodations, events, food, history and charm of what may be the smallest historic district in Northeast Florida. All of these amenities are surrounded by a wealth of trees, ancient live oaks, magnificent magnolias, staunch cedars and palms — beautiful, mature palms.
The historic Downtown streetscapes enhance the life experience of residents and visitors alike. The cabbage palms that were planted decades ago in the city’s rights-of-way can be found on all of the Downtown streets, but they were most picturesque and postcard-ready on North Sixth Street. The 100 block of North Sixth Street, which local folks lovingly refer to as the “Silk Stocking District,” contains seven large wood-frame houses constructed between 1859 and 1900. These structures exhibit features of the Italianate, Queen Anne, Stick and frame vernacular styles. These were the homes of some of the founding families of Fernandina Beach, who planted the majestic palms, which today are just one of the essential aspects in the area’s ambient Southern Charm.
Sadly, the palms of North Sixth Street began to fall on Aug. 29. Florida Public Utilities and city of Fernandina Beach approved the waste of these trees and hundreds like them, without public notification. A single frond touching even a neutral wire called for the removal of the entire palm tree.
Trees and wires occupying the same space is not a new subject. Hundreds of native hardwood trees have been compromised by heavy-handed cutting for power wires. The result, which challenges the health, stamina and stature of so many wonderful specimens, is evidenced throughout the city.
Palms are now being targeted by FPU. How can that be? Trees that have enhanced this small town for generations no longer matter?
FPU’s behavior is that of a voracious corporate predator with sights set upon efficiency over long-term planning with vision. It’s a black eye on both FPU and the city management of Fernandina Beach.
Citizens like me, seeking to save Fernandina Beach’s irreplaceable natural history, face greater hurdles every day. The hope is that the city manager and city staff will research and implement the tools that smart cities such as St. Simon’s, Beaufort or Savannah have mastered. The lack of better solutions in Fernandina Beach makes one wonder if our city’s leadership has the talent necessary to achieve protection for a majestic urban canopy.
This growing controversy deserves thoughtful discussion with concerned citizen input. And it needs to happen quickly.
Update: The removal of the trees is on hold — for now.
Ferreira is a resident of Fernandina Beach and chairperson of the Nassau County Sierra Club.