Michelle McMullen, a Tampa resident, was visibly shaken when she described her recent encounter with a toppled oak tree. The giant oak totaled her car, which was parked near Philippe Park, close to where a wedding was taking place. McMullen expressed great relief that she wasn’t in her car when the tree came down. The tree completely demolished her vehicle.
“It was a scary moment,” said McMullen. “The men from the wedding came charging out thinking someone was in the car.”
McMullen has been in negotiation with Pinellas County officials for three weeks now as she seeks compensation and help with damage and repairs.
“I have no way to get to and from work. My son starts school next week. I’m just in a really bad position,” she said.
McMullen contends that all dead trees need to be marked with a sign or tape to warn people of the possible danger.
Dead trees, whether standing or fallen, provide habitat for birds, reptiles, mammals, and insects—nearly 40 bird species in Florida nest in tree cavities. Pinellas County parks are inspected twice annually, and Dave Connor (Pinellas County Marketing and Communications) maintains that the tree in question “was scheduled for removal during the next maintenance cycle,” which would give a chance for the active woodpecker nest in the tree to fledge.
The Urban Forestry Division manages standing dead trees in parks by turning them into “snags,” when appropriate. Generally, that means they reduce the tree size and periodically prune it and inspect it to manage risk. Of course, they’re always prepared to remove the snag completely if it appears to be unsafe.
In another incident, two miles from Phillipe Park, a dead tree crashed down on two cars outside The Kitchen in downtown Safety Harbor.
“I think that it was a wake-up call that these trees need to be cared for a little bit more and the next week we did see quite a few trees out here being trimmed,” said neighbor Michelle Gallagher.
Officials in Pinellas County are working closely with McMullen’s insurance company to find a way to properly compensate her for the extensive damages.
“The County has requested the claimant submit a list of personal property loss to the County for content that was inside the vehicle, for evaluation and reimbursement if appropriate,” Connor says.
A new law became effective statewide this past July, determining that if official documentation from an arborist or licensed landscape architect was available, a government permit is no longer a necessity when removing a potentially dangerous tree. Tampa has its own version of the new law.
Tampa city attorney’s office issued a general public notice suggesting an arborist must comply with the definitive guidelines when diagnosing a truly hazardous tree, and the danger from the tree must be deemed “severe.”
It’s always wise to consult with a professional tree service/certified arborist when removing trees for optimum safety. They have the proper equipment and know-how to remove a tree safely.