Oak Hill resident Gerry Powell has documented and photographed over 200 large oak trees in the path of proposed expansion of U.S. 290 West and S.H. 71 along Williamson Creek.
by Ann Fowler
According to local residents, more than 200 large oak trees stand to be damaged or lost if the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) moves ahead with the Oak Hill Parkway project as currently designed. Oak Hill resident Gerry Powell has documented and photographed 288 oak trees in the path of proposed expansion of U.S. 290 West and S.H. 71 along Williamson Creek.
Save Oak Hill, a grassroots group formed out of concern for the rapid loss of treasured Oak Hill landmarks, has scheduled a rally this Saturday, November 21, to call attention to the endangered oaks.
The surveyed trees, protected by City ordinance, include:
- 114 trees in the simple “protected” category of 19 to 24 inches in diameter
- 137 trees of the “heritage” category of 24 to 36 inches
- 37 of the “legacy” category of 36 inches or more
Kelli Reyna, public information officer for the TxDOT Austin District, said, “Ultimately, the determination regarding trees is made by our design. That being said, the Oak Hill Parkway project team is sensitive to the value of the natural environment and the safety of the public. We take this very seriously as we work to enhance safety and mobility in the Oak Hill area. Also, while the city of Austin ordinances do not apply to TxDOT, we have been coordinating with the city’s arborist and others to preserve as many trees as possible in the project area.”
City of Austin arborist Michael Embesi told the Gazette, “I can confirm that [TxDOT has] reached out to me (and the community) to address potential tree issues for this project over the past several years.”
Save Oak Hill representatives say neither of the TxDOT designs, known as Alternatives A and C, is good for the trees for which Oak Hill is named. Organizers say TxDOT engineers have attempted to avoid the loss of just a handful of the more famous trees—such as the iconic Grandmother Oak and the Taco Bell tree—but the sheer width of the highway, the elevation requirements and the needed access ramps will lead to the removal of or damage to hundreds of large trees.
Save Oak Hill organizers say they plan to engage professional assistance in exploring potential for a public park to preserve the historic center of Oak Hill and will be accepting donations for the effort.
TxDOT is currently engaged in a federally mandated environmental impact study to measure the extent of tree removal and other impacts from design Alternatives A and C.
“We have been talking to TxDOT for a long time,” said Carol Cespedes, an Oak Hill resident active in Save Oak Hill. “They have made some adjustments, but the result hasn’t much changed. The current plans will reduce Oak Hill to a name on the map—without its historic oaks.”
Steve Beers of the Save Barton Creek Association is equally critical of the suggested road designs. He said, “TxDOT is evading the federal mandate for ‘context sensitive design’ by ignoring the great trees of Oak Hill.”
Organizers encourage the public to join the rally on Saturday, Nov. 21 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the northeast corner of William Cannon and U.S. Hwy 290 West. The Save Oak Hill group will present a photographic “tree tour” provided by Powell, combined with maps based on the TxDOT schematics to show the impact of the proposed highway on existing trees.
Save Oak Hill has a website at www.SaveOakHill.org.
For more information on the “Save Oak Hill Tree Tour,” or to sign the group’s petition, see www.SaveOakHill.org/tour/.