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Camden & Glynn lawmakers tell GDOT to pause I-95 tree removal project

The tree and vegetation removal along I-95 has caused consternation among the public within Camden and Glynn Counties.

The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) spokesperson, Jill Nagel, says the tree and vegetation are being removed to ensure safety.

AllOnGeorgia spoke with Jill Nagel by phone and asked what the determining factors were to remove the vegetation along I-95 exits in Camden County.

“All of our safety projects are data-driven. We look at all the fatality reports that come through law enforcement and put the information together. Fifty-one percent of fatalities in Georgia among single vehicle accidents involve hitting fixed objects, such as a tree or a bridge. We are clearing the “clear zones” to give drivers more room leaving the roadway. We are clearing that area so they can stop safely or navigate back onto the roadway without hitting an object like a tree.”

GDOT’s transportation management efforts were put to the test after hurricane Matthew in 2016. Over 237 trees had to be removed along I-95 and I-16 interstates as well as leaning trees that had the potential to block traffic, according to Nagel.

“This covered our 26-county service area up through Candler County and all of I-95,” said Nagel.

Concerns over drainage in Kingsland has become a serious topic of interest since hurricane Irma in September of 2017. The recent removal of the trees has increased anxiety, particularly in Camden County.

Nagel was asked what kind of drainage prevention mitigation goes into removing the trees. She stated that their contractors do not participate in grubbing which is to ensure the roots and soil associated with the tree removal stay intact. Furthermore, Nagel states that stumps are ground back into the ground and not removed.

“They have to cut the tree and grind the stump down to the ground, but they cannot dig. So that keeps the soil stable. And what we will do in the spring is come back and seed it with grass,” Nagel said. “This is only phase-1 of the removal process. Safety is our number one priority.”

Increasing the line-of-sight is a priority in making roads safer, Nagel added.

AllOnGeorgia asked if the entire project plan includes all of I-95. Nagel said that “for the moment it is only in Camden and Glynn Counties.”  However, other areas to the west part of the state along I-75 are also experiencing similar vegetation removal.

“We are doing vegetation management along all of our major corridors; vegetation has grown into the right of ways.  By removing that vegetation, you are going to have a line-of-sight issue a lot further in front of you. So, we are just increasing safety for motorists,” said Nagel.

Nagel said South Carolina and Florida are performing a lot of vegetation management along with their roadways as well.

Local reaction –

State Representative Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine) stated that he was disappointed with how GDOT has handled the communication of vegetation removal and that no communication was sent to him or local officials.

“I learned of the tree removal when everybody else did, which was when I saw all of the trees coming down. I am not happy with the way GDOT communicated this to the public. Other representatives along I-95 also did not get notified by GDOT that this project was underway.”

Spencer stated that he inquired about the removal and then GDOT sent out some information on vegetation removal project along the roadways. Spencer reiterated that other counties are expected to be part of the project along I-95.

Spencer states there were harvesting contracts issued to companies in Camden County.

Citizens have expressed their concerns on social media about the lack of communication from GDOT about the tree removal project.

 

Kingsland is undergoing a bypass project that also required vegetation removal by GDOT. Kingsland Councilman Grayson Day states similar communications also occurred concerning bypass vegetation removal and the current removal along I-95.

“We had very little notice of any of the clearing. When we saw it start, we attempted to reach out to GDOT so we could have some input. It was not welcomed nor were we included at all. Same occurred with the Laurel Island Parkway widening. We asked if we could stop the oak tree removals and we were told no. We then asked if we could have some input with the design to make it more visually pleasing and we were told no again,” states Day.

Day was asked if this project would exacerbate ongoing drainage issues in Kingsland which were significantly exposed during Hurricane Irma, particularly near the proposed EPIC Adventure Park area, which will parallel the western side of I-95 between Exits 1 and 3.

“Well, with pine trees being able to absorb roughly 100 gallons of water each day, I cannot imagine that it will not affect our drainage issue both at the exits and all the surrounding areas of the interstate,” said Day.

Camden County government spokesperson, Jon Simpson, stated that GDOT did not send official communication to their offices about this project. Simpson noted that a regional engineer should get in touch on such matters, but the county was not notified since the interstates are the state’s responsibility. The county is not always notified when GDOT mows or removes vegetation.

Camden and Glynn’s General Assembly representation in Atlanta has sent a letter to GDOT asking them to halt the project until their questions are answered.

In a letter sent to GDOT officials, and regional Board member Ann Purcell, the delegation states the following:

The undersigned are requesting the Georgia Department of Transportation (henceforth, “the Department”) to pause all vegetation management activities along the I-95 corridor and elsewhere in the state, until questions we have posed in this letter have been satisfactorily answered.

While we represent only the I-95 corridor, as members of the General Assembly we believe this project potentially impacts the entire state. We have personally also seen the clearing of trees along I-16 on our travels to and from our home districts to Atlanta.  Hence, we are requesting an immediate suspension of the project statewide until members of the General Assembly and members of the affected local governing authorities have been fully briefed on all details of the project.  We have received numerous emails and phone calls from concerned constituents and local elected officials regarding the Georgia Department of Transportation’s (GDOT) “vegetation management” of trees along the I-95 corridor. 

The letter goes on to say that constituents “are not happy with what is taking place” and officials only received knowledge of the project “when the trees started coming down” and “the level of concern has reached a serious crescendo locally. Explanations we have conveyed from the Department are not satisfactory to our constituents.  As you can imagine, the ‘explanation’ is met with great skepticism. “

The letter further describes talking points being delivered by the GDOT about safety concerns, and officials want to know who in the Department authorized the removal of the trees along with the how much revenue will be generated from harvesting the trees. Officials are asking if the revenue generated from the tree removal be used to erect sound barriers.

Citizens living along the areas of tree removal have expressed concern about the long-term impact to their property. The local representatives are urging GDOT to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation to allow for sound barriers along the path of removal. Congressman Buddy Carter’s office has also been asked to do the same.

See full letter below: Click on GDOT Letter

GDOT LETTER

https://www.allongeorgia.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ed19dda4-gdot-letter.pdf

 

Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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