If you don’t think trees on Amelia Island are a big deal, try to remove one.
“There are some inconsistencies and some cross-references that don’t work, and some challenges with new laws that are coming down that I think (Nassau County arborist) Garner Cox will explain to you,” said Denise May, the Nassau County interim county attorney. “For now, in the big picture, what are your powers and duties? Mostly to develop and recommend a tree-planting program that will go up to the Board of County Commissioners and be updated every five years.”
The commission’s work is to be a significant part of replenishing the tree canopy on the south end of Amelia Island and the unincorporated mid-island area. Tree canopy preservation and replenishment go to the heart of a certain environmentally conscious, small beach town ethos to which many Amelia Island residents adhere.
“To strengthen the economy, these men and women (who revitalized Fernandina Beach in the ‘70s) made the city more beautiful, not less,” resident Richard Doster wrote in a letter to the local News-Leader newspaper in September. “Rather than widen Centre Street to accommodate more cars; they narrowed it. They added twists and soft turns, making it a prettier drive. They didn’t rip out trees; they added shaded rest areas.
“They didn’t neglect our sense of neighborliness; they built benches, encouraging neighbors and visitors to sit and rest and spend time together. They didn’t build more buildings or taller buildings or more modern buildings; they persuaded property owners to restore the beautiful historic buildings that were already here, and that are now one of the island’s most valuable assets.”
Language in various policies conflict with the commission’s purpose, though, so they have to be rewritten to accommodate the commission’s new role in the process.
“You will review restoration plans — that’s what’s a little conflicting right now,” May said. “As the ordinance shows, it goes to code enforcement and you never see those. We’ve got to work out what was intended and fix whatever needs fixing, which we will do.”
As part of the process of starting up the commission, Cox reminded commissioners why they were there.
“The sense of place that (trees) give folks, I think that’s very apparent here on Amelia Island,” Cox said. “The mental benefit — there have been several studies done that show spending time in greenspace can have the same effect as Adderall or antidepressants on folks with those mental health disorders.
“There are a lot of benefits, tangible and intangible, that we get from the forest, and that’s why we established this ordinance and why this commission is here.”
The next meeting is set for May 19 at 3 p.m. to sort out county tree policies and procedures. After that, meetings will generally be at 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month.