Sunday | April 26, 2015
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Tree removal sparks dissent in S. Kona

Stumps are all that remained Wednesday of four jacaranda trees and the rest are in danger of being cut down unless the state Department of Transportation changes its mind, said several concerned Big Island residents and Imua Landscaping Co., the contractor doing the tree removal and trimming.

The removal of 16 historic jacarandas along Mamalahoa Highway, between the Hookena Junction and McCandless Ranch, in South Kona has promoted a flurry of protests from residents and motorists passing by.

In an attempt to try to save the remaining jacarandas, Josh Greenspan, an arborist with Imua Landscaping, said the company stopped work on the trees Wednesday and was waiting to hear back from the DOT before continuing. He added, the company is “caught between a rock and hard place,” tasked with having to complete a job it was hired to do while also wanting to preserve these beloved trees.

Messages left for the DOT were not returned and officials could not be reached for comment, as of press time.

Greenspan understands why neighbors are upset, adding his love of trees led to his career choice. He said the company tried to convince DOT to keep the jacarandas and instead just trim them. Imua Landscaping Co. also recommended DOT consult an independent local arborist before making its decision.

Greenspan said DOT wanted Imua Landscaping Co. to remove 16 jacarandas and seven mango trees to prevent smashed windshields and other hazards to vehicles that travel along this area of the highway. Supposedly, DOT has received complaints from the public about falling branches and fruit hitting vehicles, all of which posed liability and safety concerns. The state agency had also lamented about having to go to court for disputes involving damages caused by trees along state roadways.

The 16 jacaranda trees have stood for at least half a century. They are community landmarks and are purple people-pleasers when in full bloom with their ultraviolet-blue flowers.

South Kona resident Cynthia Salley called the removal of the jacarandas “a desecration.” Her relative, Elizabeth Loy Marks, and Coco Hind planted the trees in the early 1960s to beautify the area. She thinks the flowering jacaranda, especially when its lavender canopy is present, creates a postcard-perfect highway that’s attractive for everyone, including tourists. This is something, she said, that should be important, especially when considering tourism is a main part of the state’s economy.

Carol Hendricks, a board member of The Outdoor Circle, said her organization believes in “keeping Hawaii clean, green and beautiful,” as well as doing tree preservation and education. She called the removal of the jacarandas “a travesty” and hoped DOT would stop. She did not blame Imua Landscaping Co., saying its employees were only doing their job. Still, she was delighted upon hearing about the company temporarily holding off work on the jacarandas.

Hendricks said longtime kamaaina and concerned neighbors contacted her about the trees, which were planted in the 1950s or ’60s by ranching families. Besides being upset about the destruction and loss, they were upset that the DOT did not consult them prior to beginning the work and have questions regarding the easement. She spoke about the importance of having an arborist committee, tasked with making recommendations for such projects and landscaping plans, as well as recommending exceptional trees to be protected and providing appropriate protective ordinances. She added, the county used to have such a committee, but it fell by the wayside.

Hendricks and Greenspan encouraged concerned residents to contact DOT directly at 587-2150.