Orange Park, FL

Orange Park residents upset with trees cut down at Bradley Park

Julie Morgan

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Orange Park residents continue to voice their concerns about the trees cut down at Rob Bradley Conservation Park at Nelson Point.

At the July 19 town council meeting, several residents came forward to express their dismay about the number of trees cut down. They were told that only 27 trees had been cut because they were diseased, dying, or invasive.

"As a matter of routine business, we take down diseased and dying trees, invasive trees on a regular basis," said Town Manager Sarah Campbell at the July meeting. Campbell says she was informed that the invasive camphor and Chinaberry trees were to be taken down along with dead pine trees and a rotten live oak tree.

However, residents at that July meeting told a different story. One of those residents was Chuck Lindholm. Tuesday night, his name appeared on the town council meeting agenda to speak more on the topic.

Lindholm said his inventory showed that more than 70 trees had been cut down, and only 10 percent were diseased or dying. In addition, some of the "invasive" trees on the list to be cut were left standing.

"There's a lot of faces here, and they don't have a voice," he said about the effect this has had on the wildlife such as osprey, a fox, freshwater otter, gators, owls, raccoons, and others.

Later in Tuesday night's meeting, another resident commented on the displaced animals. "Now all those animals that were living over there are on my property," said Debra Waters. Waters lives across from Bradley Park and described the "thumps and chippers" when the trees were being cut down the week of July 18.

"I feed the raccoons, the birds, and everything else. My raccoons ate all my figs off my tree. I'm glad I could feed them, but it's not fair," she said.

When the issue was first brought up in July, Councilwoman Sarah Thompson said she had contacted the town manager about the subject. "I think council, as a whole, was sideswiped. We didn't know that this was going to happen. I wanted everyone to know that. We had no idea that they were taking down all these trees. We heard about it after the fact."

Thompson questioned the town manager about the process. "Why could we not wait to come to a regular council meeting and discuss this and give recommendations for what needed to be done with these trees?" She said the matter should have gone before the environmental quality board for a recommendation about what to do and then to the council to approve the proposal.

Campbell responded that when the operations manager approached her about the topic, she didn't "bat an eye" about the work needed because it was a normal process.

"Where in our ordinances and where in our town charter, where in those provisions does it say that the trees can be cut down without coming to council? I'd like to know," asked Thompson. "Because we're a tree and bird sanctuary, we need to be extremely careful."

Town Attorney Sam Garrison told the council that they aren't required to do anything with the park as long as it "doesn't violate the terms and conditions of the deed."

Later in Tuesday night's meeting, the council approved a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The $200,000 matching grant will be used for a natural trail, observation areas, multi-use shoreline, and public restrooms at Bradley Park.

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