Alas for the ancient trees of Acadiana. The latest oak under fire is an approximately 150-year-old live oak in the way of a new roundabout in Youngsville. While several groups, including Trees Acadiana and the Sierra Club, have been working to save the venerable tree from the ax, the realignment of the intersection of Hwys. 92 and 89, currently a dog leg that involves several stop signs as vehicles weave their way through the heart of old Youngsville, will definitely aid traffic flow in the growing community.
Carmer Falgout, a Lafayette social worker, has led the charge to preserve the tree. "I don't think people really see the oaks, they just take them for granted," she says. Until they are cut down. Falgout had the experience of watching a 100-year-old tree removed by Tri-Parish Bank on South College, a tree she daily looked at out the window of her office for years. The experienced turned her into an activist, "It made me sick," she says, and she began working with other groups to influence governments and individuals to revisit building plans to take the native urban forest into account, especially when old live oaks are involved.
There have been some egregious incidents over the past decade, when trees were destroyed unnecessarily. The Four Corners Oak comes to mind, a mighty oak that once shaded Toby's Little Lodge at the intersection of North University and Cameron. Advanced Auto Parts, which built on the lot, chainsawed the tree in the middle of the night because there was so much opposition to its removal. The company later planted three young live oaks in the vicinity of the Four Corners Oak. There was no reason for the destruction of the oak, and it will be a century before those saplings come into their own.
UL has recently cut several live oaks, some 50-100 years old, as part of the master plan to build new dorms on campus. Student outcry (see the Ind's story Paving Paradise) led to some redesign on the part of the administration and architects, which will potentially save three of the six condemned trees.
In the case of the Youngsville tree, which is not a named registered member of the Live Oak Society, the highway project has been on the books for eight years. It's a two-fold state highway project, to realign La. 92 to cleanly intersect La. 89 at a new traffic roundabout. Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator says he and the council have been trying to save the tree, "its an asset to the town," but they haven't been able to figure out how.
Youngsville has been booming of late, with the development of Sugar Mill Pond and other subdivisions, as well as the completion of Ambassador Caffery South. The road in particular obviates the need to wind through the country and gives motorists a straight shot from Lafayette's south side to access Bonin Road and the Youngsville Highway, (La. 89), both roads that lead into Youngsville. With the easy access comes more development, and commerce, says Youngsville Chief Economic Officer Rick Garner, is a priority.
"We're not in the tree killing business but we have to do what is best for Youngsville in the long run," says Garner. "We're losing a beautiful tree, but the economics of the city are going to be enhanced greatly. Commerce is going to be greater. It doesn't matter how many businesses you open, if you can't get people in your driveway, you haven't done much. These traffic problems have to get resolved so that customers can get to these merchants."
The Youngsville council met last night, and agreed that if the environmental organizations can raise the money, they will allow the tree to be moved to safety. "I feel we've done everything to date to save the tree, and we haven't figured it out," says Viator. While the contracts for the road work have been let, and Viator plans to accept the low bid, he has 45 days before he has to issue an order to proceed. "We'll work with the groups to try to move the tree, if they can come up with the money," he says. "We're going to put in a nice roundabout, with landscaping. If we could keep the tree, it would be a big asset. This is where the city originated. We just haven't come up with an idea of how to save it."