It is with mixed emotions that I read Judy Shippey's article of Feb. 16, concerning one the greatest resources of our heritage here in Liberty County, our beautiful and grand live oak trees. Many people take their beauty and history for granted because they have been here for generations. Ms. Shippey correctly states that many people have worked hard to keep our trees safe from developers and construction companies. But from a very personal experience, the most dangerous enemy the live oaks is not developers and construction companies, but the government itself, specifically, the Georgia Department of Transportation.
On a crisp morning on Feb. 8, 2007, the GDOT deliberately and without cause, destroyed six live oaks that ranged in age from 100 to 200 years old at my home on Highway 196 East. For almost seven years, I endeavored to work with the GDOT to save these magnificent oaks to no avail. I offered to do whatever it took to save them. But I found myself fighting a losing battle. Only after I publicly offered to donate, free, up to 22 acres of my property, including the property that my own home sits upon, would they even perform an alternative study. I own a enough road frontage on either side of these trees that no other right-of-way would have to have been acquired from anyone else. Even after the study clearly showed these trees could be saved, the GDOT still refused to consider any different action than simply to "show me who has the power." I was willing to give up the home that I live in, and have raised my family in, to save these majestic live oaks and they still refused to even respond, except with condescending attitudes from egotistical, power hungry bureaucrats. They simply "condemned my property, seized it and destroyed it." I have yet to have my day "in court."
In fact, just after the GDOT performed a survey of Highway 196. I did an independent count of live oaks that I estimated to be more than 50 years old that would be affected by the construction and found that more than 60 trees would be destroyed along this eight mile project. I am sure a certain number of these magnificent trees would have to be sacrificed, but the vast majority could have been saved by simple realignments or protective barriers.
A private individual must
apply and obtain a permit to
simply perform any type of tree alteration, but the GDOT is above the law. Their action, by definition, can only be described as blend of communism and dictatorship.
I invite anyone to review the progress (or lack of) of this project. A simple review will reveal that apparently a vendetta by the GDOT has been launched against me personally because I brought to light how corrupt they really are. Since I started this exposure, the GDOT commissioner has resigned and the new commissioner found literally over a billion dollars of budget shortfalls due to mismanagement of our tax money.
As a result, I can only deduce by their actions, the right-of-way in front of my home, as well as the five plus additional acres of my property and a house they condemned and took for additional right-of-way, has been subject to the poorest of construction practices and only what can be deduced as downright vengeance. Piles of debris were deliberately placed and left for almost a year directly in front of my home, a lone pine tree was stripped of all its limbs and left standing as an eyesore less than 10 feet from my driveway as a constant reminder to me of their "power." They crossed on to my personal property, deliberately piling massive pipes of debris and blocked an entrance into my tree farm, and left it for months as well. Meanwhile, no one else along Highway 196 had any such debris pile, partially cleared right-of-way, or eyesores left in front of their home anywhere close to length of time I had to endure such indignation and inconvenience.
In addition, according to the GDOT engineers, my home and that of my mother across the road, sit upon one of the highest elevations along this eight-mile stretch. Yet, if anyone will ride by and observe the GDOT built up the road bed higher here than at any other point on the project. This action put our homes into a "pit" that increases the danger of entering the highway, amplifies the road noise in our homes, and greatly devalues all the property.
However, I can say that the present GDOT "local project manager" has been helpful in correcting a few of the debris pile issues.
All of my efforts to simply save these majestic live oaks, the same tree that was designated by the state legislature as the official tree of our state, only resulted in me losing this battle, and now I am subject to the "victors" of this battle "plundering the spoils and enslaving the conquered." In so doing, it was not only I that lost this battle, we all lost. Our children's children will not see or enjoy the beauty of live oaks of this grandeur again in their lifetimes. What the Revolutionary War, the War Between the States and 200 years of hurricanes, tornadoes, pollution, disease and natural disasters did not do what the GDOT did in two days in the destruction of these trees. If there was no other way to improve the safety of this road, I could better understand, but there was a better way, they simply refused to listen.
I sincerely hope no one else has to ever endure what I have from any government agency due the gross mismanagement and lack of oversight that existed, and apparently still exists, in the GDOT. I encourage our governor and legislature to enact some type of oversight for such GDOT practices in future, so the willful and deliberate destruction of our heritage will at least be subject to a review by an independent panel
of private citizens, who will at least have something that is absent from GDOT today, "common sense."