After more than six months of back-and-forth, including second, third and fourth opinions, VDOT Chief Engineer Garrett Moore has decided that one of the two trees at the intersection of Georgetown Pike and Walker Road will be removed, and the other will be pruned and monitored for further deterioration.
“In the end, it was the overwhelming opinion of various expert arborists that one tree, the one closest to the corner, was too ill and in danger of falling to risk trying to save,” said Bob Vickers, Great Falls tree commissioner. “As for the other, I’m happy that VDOT agreed to careful pruning and close monitoring to see if it could be kept healthy. I hope that in the long run, it remains a legacy for all Great Falls residents.”
The two white oak trees, which are located just feet from the roadway, came under scrutiny after a driver was killed just east of the intersection when a tree fell on his vehicle. Some residents were concerned that the proximity of the trees to the road would present a future hazard, while others wanted the heritage trees to stay, noting that they are in much better health than the tree that fell.
In a letter to the Great Falls Citizens Association Friday, March 1, Moore said after extensive testing by four different arborists that the tree closest to the intersection should be removed.
“Three of the four arborists formally involved advised that the tree furthest from Walker Road could be retained for an indeterminate amount of time if crown pruning is done,” Moore wrote. “VDOT has no interest in removing the trees along the right-of-way unless there is a safety issue. The health of the tree will need to be monitored into the future. We hope that it thrives, but if it becomes less stable or unhealthy, it may also need to be removed in coming years.”
The decision was made after tests that examined everything from the inspection of the tree crowns to tomography, which is similar to an X-Ray, to detect possible weaknesses.
One report indicated that the tree to be removed has open wounds and obvious decay in the roots on three sides, as well as early stages of decay that extends about six feet up the tree trunk.
After the four arborists submitted their report, they held a conference call with Moore, who made the final decision. Moore, the former Northern Virginia administrator for VDOT, was named chief engineer last December, but continued his interest in the tree issue.
Bill Canis, co-chair of the GFCA’s environmental committee, said that during the process arborists said there is a rule of thumb that removing 15 percent of branches can reduce the pressure on the tree’s roots by approximately 40 percent.