Environmental Group’s Push to Spare Barton Springs Tree Ain’t Happening, City Says

Photo by John Anderson

Flo, a beloved 100-year-old pecan tree leaning over Barton Springs Pool, is on her last roots. She’s scheduled for removal from the park Thursday, Oct. 5 (after a celebration of life today), but environmental group Save Our Springs Alliance isn’t ready to let go.

The city announced in August that the tree’s fatal fungal infection left her deteriorating and posing a threat to pool visitors, so they would remove the tree. Following the announcement, Austin’s parks department received dozens of emails asking staff to find another way to address the tree’s condition, and the city delayed the removal. KUT’s Luz Moreno-Lozano reported Monday that the city would move ahead as planned.

SOS offered a last-ditch plan to build an artful safety net structure around the tree, as reported by KXAN. They say the tree isn’t really at risk of falling due to its metal support structure and that only one limb presents a risk to swimmers.

A Parks and Recreation Department spokesperson told the Chronicle those claims aren’t true, pointing to certified arborist assessments from four local tree care services. In a city memo last Friday, PARD Director Kimberly McNeeley said the city’s structural engineer evaluated the tree and found it “is not structurally sound resulting in imminent failure. This creates a life and safety risk for the public and must be addressed in a timely manner.”

SOS takes issue with that statement. In an email sent to KUT and Chronicle staff, SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch asked KUT to “please fix your coverage,” by calling PARD out on what he calls “false, fear-mongering stuff.” Bunch says the metal support structure holding Flo up means that there is no risk of the tree collapsing onto people. Is that correct? A Parks and Rec spokesperson told us simply, “No.” Bunch also claimed that only one large limb is at risk of falling. Parks and Rec responded: “No.”

PARD isn’t considering collaborating with Stanley Studio, the metal worker architects that SOS said it would pay to build a new, more appealing structure around Flo. “It is possible that this tree could fail or die before any structure is designed, fabricated or installed,” the spokesperson said.

The city points to Austin Tree Care’s assessment that Flo’s fatal fungal infection causes “complete compromise of the sapwood tissue over a relatively short period of time. While the tree does have artificial support, this loss of tissue at the base and eventual complete tree death will leave the tree extremely hazardous and unsafe for professional tree workers to manage.”

Another, Arbor Vitae Tree Care, wrote, “there is almost no sound wood left in this tree’s trunk from the ground to at least ten feet up …. In my opinion, it is about as dire as it can be.”

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