Oak trees chopped down in Merritt Island neighborhood

Article Courtesy of FLORIDA TODAY

By Rick Neale

Published August 16, 2017


MERRITT ISLAND — Flat-topped tree stumps marked with pink spray paint now line Old Parsonage Drive, where Brevard County crews chopped down a dozen majestic oak trees from the street right-of-way.

The tree-cutting operation roiled the New Georgiana Settlement neighborhood. Officials said wayward tree roots were cracking sidewalks and the road asphalt, so the oaks had to go.

Naturally, some residents were outraged. One decried the "ridiculous massacre" in an opinion piece in the August issue of Merritt Island Now, claiming that "Brevard County orchestrated their Pearl Harbor attack on our mature tree-lined street."


"At first, of course, we were all devastated. We were totally upset. We didn't understand," said Jill Schmidlkofer, secretary of the New Georgiana Settlement Homeowners Association.

Old Parsonage Drive is a 20 mph loop road just north of the South Tropical Trail-South Courtenay Parkway split. The neighborhood contains 48 homes. Per HOA covenant, each housing lot must contain four oaks and four trees of other species, Schmidlkofer said.

"The oaks create an atmosphere of another time, a time when life was simpler and peaceful. We relish that ambience, as do visitors, who often remark that our neighborhood is unique and desirable because of that atmosphere," the New Georgiana Settlement HOA board said in a statement to FLORIDA TODAY.

"We were concerned when the county said that 12 of our beloved oaks would have to be removed. At first there were many questions, but then, after we realized that the original plan of the developer was flawed, we agreed that removal was the only logical course of action," the HOA stated.

Over time, the lifting pressure of the tree roots pushed portions of sidewalk upward — creating a trip hazard, said Susan Jackson, county road and bridge program manager.


"Additionally, in some areas, the root system has lifted the concrete curb and asphalt pavement of the roadway, which also creates a public safety hazard for the motoring public," Jackson said.

Schmidlkofer said Jim Wham, county road and bridge maintenance manager, explained the oak removal project during a HOA meeting and allayed most residents' concerns.

This week, heavy equipment operators dug up and removed the chopped-down trees' underground roots. Some sections of sidewalk remain missing.

"We realized that it was simply an error that the developers had made 30 years ago when our neighborhood was established. It was simply not a very wise thing to put oaks with huge root systems into a very narrow county easement," Schmidlkofer said.

She said a HOA committee will work with a county arborist to select appropriate tree species that lack invasive root systems. Replacement trees will be purchased by homeowners, not the county.

"There are more oak trees planted in the county easement, and we fear that someday they, too, will require removal," the HOA board stated.

"In the meantime, we will do as much as possible to ensure that they are not destructive to the road or sidewalks, and we will derive as much enjoyment as we can from their shade and protection, as long as we can."