Shannon Nickinson: Where is the Lorax when you need him?


Dr. Seuss’ creation, who speaks for the trees, for the trees have no tongue, may have had a thing or two to say about the way the Florida Department of Transportation clear-cut a stand of live oaks in the expansion of Interstate 10 late last year.

The trees were cut to accommodate the road widening and to make space for a retention pond project permitted by the Northwest Florida Water Management District that will help reduce storm-water pollution into Escambia Bay.

That, friends, is a good thing.

“We were very happy about some of the retention ponds that will be there,” says Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson IV. “I’ve heard environmental people here say that the retention pond is going to be the bigger help because you won’t have untreated storm water going into Escambia Bay. And that’s true, but it doesn’t excuse what happened with the trees.

“Nobody was really paying attention to what it would mean for the trees until they were coming down.”

Planning for the project began years ago, and while it was never a secret that trees would have to be cut down to make room for the new road, it wasn’t at the top of anyone’s mind as the “road work” signs went up.

But when the trees came down, tree-lovers howled. But the thing is, DOT didn’t have to tell the county, the city or anyone else for that matter ahead of time that the trees would be cut.

DOT understands that people are upset, says Ian Satter, DOT spokesman for District 3. But the design of the project didn’t leave the department with any option.

“As we widen, we’re going to use a lot of the median, but as we moved out farther, right there we have to install large storm-water ponds and we have to alter the on- and off-ramps as well. Another reason is because of the installation of the sound walls.”

Satter said DOT could have tried to buy homes along the highway to accommodate the ponds, but they considered that a more disruptive — and one imagines more expensive — plan than cutting down the trees.

Trees that were, Satter notes, in a state right-of-way.

Now Robinson is turning his attention to what will be replanted at the site.

“They didn’t come to us before they cut them down. We’d like them to at least come to us so that we can be a part of the landscaping plan,” he says.

Three years ago they put together a landscaping plan for the project, including that area, Satter says.

“We are going to review those plans and see if there are any updates to that,” Satter said. “Any plan we developed three years ago is not set in stone. We want to make sure we’re working with the county.”

At a recent town-hall meeting, Robinson said that DOT talked about starter plantings at least 16 inches in diameter being part of the mix of eastern redbud, Florida dogwood, live oak, bald cypress, slash pine and sabal palms.

Robinson says he would prefer to see longleaf pine in consideration rather than slash pine, but overall he thinks DOT is willing to listen to local voices.

The landscaping contract should be let sometime in 2016, Satter says.

I hope the Lorax is still around two years from now when it comes time to get serious about the landscaping plan. DOT hasn’t always been the staunchest advocate for the trees.

Panhandle residents need only cast their minds back to 2013, when DOT quietly settled with Salter Outdoor Advertising for $100,000 over some 2,136 trees the billboard company had cut down in 2009 as nuisance trees.

The original estimate for what Salter would have had to pay in mitigation fees was nearer the $1.9 million mark.

So I hope DOT forgives us if we keep the little furry guy with the handlebar moustache on speed dial. When it comes to our trees, we like to trust, but verify.

Shannon Nickinson is a columnist writing in Pensacola. Follow her at

Shannon Nickinson


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