Judge blocks removal of trees

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A judge has granted a temporary restraining order barring school officials from removing two oak trees at the edge of St. Albans High School's Crawford Field.Kanawha County Judge Charles E. King granted the restraining order Wednesday after Maintenance Director Terry Hollandsworth directed crews to remove the trees for fear that they were rotting and present a hazard to athletes using the field.Hollandsworth said that 80 mile-per-hour winds from this summer's storms knocked the trees' branches into the middle of U.S. 60. When officials looked at the trees more closely, they discovered that one of the trees was completely rotted and that the other had a 5-foot split in the middle of the trunk."It's just a matter of time before a good gust of wind hits it and it falls down," he said.St. Albans resident Pat O'Reilly filed for Wednesday's restraining order, marking the second time he has sought legal intervention to block the school system from removing the trees.In 2007, school officials sought to remove the trees to make way for bleachers and other upgrades to Crawford Field. O'Reilly protested, and filed for restraining orders in Kanawha Circuit Court and later the state Supreme Court.The school board decided to back off, and sent written and verbal assurances to St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway that school officials will "keep the trees and they will ensure the longevity of the trees," Callaway said in 2007.O'Reilly said Wednesday that he filed another restraining order in hopes of saving at least one of the trees. Hollandsworth, he said, should not have the final say on whether the oaks stay or go."He's not qualified, OK? That's my point," he said. "Until they get someone besides the maintenance guy, I want them to hold up."
By Wednesday night, one tree remained standing, but appeared partially trimmed. The second had already been cut to a large stump. Hollandsworth said that the maintenance department made the final decision to cut down the trees and that the school board was not informed.School Superintendent Ron Duerring confirmed that the trees were to be removed because of safety issues exacerbated by the June storms.Kanawha County school board President Pete Thaw said that he was not happy with the maintenance department's decision, and said that Hollandsworth should have gotten the go-ahead from the board before ordering the trees felled."He claims that it's unsafe," Thaw said. "I don't know if he's telling the truth or not."He added: "I'm very, very sorry for the people of St. Albans."Duerring did not comment on why the issue was not presented to the board. He also said that school officials most likely would not renovate the field once the trees are gone.
"The money was available [in 2007] to do that kind of work, so it probably won't be done," he said.The restraining order is in effect until Oct. 9.Staff writer Kate White contributed to this story. Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.
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