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DeKalb County unsure which contractor hacked limbs off trees at historic courthouse

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DeKalb County unsure which contractor hacked limbs off trees at historic courthouse

DeKalb County Arborist R.W. Tonning stands near a damaged tree at the DeKalb County Courthouse during a site visit on Jan. 5. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt
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DeKalb County Arborist R.W. Tonning stands near a damaged tree at the DeKalb County Courthouse during a site visit on Jan. 5. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

This story has been updated.

Some unknown county contractor recently hacked limbs off magnolia and holly trees surrounding the historic courthouse on the Decatur Square.

The work occurred on Christmas Eve weekend and was apparently ordered by the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, according to the county’s arborist and a local arborist, Susan Avent, who has been doggedly trying to find the contractor responsible.

But the county Parks and Recreation Department hasn’t been able to provide an answer about who did the work and Sarah Page, a spokesperson for county CEO Michael Thurmond, said county officials are still trying to figure that out. She’s also not certain if the work was ordered by the Parks and Recreation Department or another county department.

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Casey Tree Experts has a contract with the county, but they didn’t do any work on the trees around the courthouse according to an employee of the company and county officials. The company was called in Friday afternoon, Jan. 5, to inspect the damage along with DeKalb County Arborist R.W. Tonning and city of Decatur Arborist Kay Evanovich.

Nearly every tree at the courthouse had limbs sawed off, some all the way to the trunk. The limb of one tree lining Ponce de Leon Avenue looked like it had snapped off at some point during the work.

Tonning said the county Parks and Recreation Department had issued a contract for “pruning” which does not require a permit and wouldn’t have been vetted by his office.

Whoever the contractor is, they bungled the job, county and city officials said.

“It’s not done to industry standards,” Tonning said.

DeKalb County Arborist R.W. Tonning stands near a damaged tree at the DeKalb County Courthouse during a site visit on Jan. 5. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Decatur City Manager Peggy Merriss said the city received a formal complaint about the work. While the property is owned and maintained by the county, the trees fall under the jurisdiction of the city’s tree protection ordinance, Merriss said.

“It appears that the tree service hired by DeKalb did not consult with the us prior to doing the work and the work they did was not appropriate,” Merriss said. “Ms. Evanovich is following up with DeKalb County and the tree service and will be taking action to address the issue.”

The courthouse is often used for filming but there’s no evidence yet that the work was done at the behest of any film production, though that’s something the county is investigating, Page said.

Mallory Donaldson, the rental and preservation coordinator for the DeKalb History Center which is located inside the old courthouse, said the damage was not caused by film crews.

“The film crew had nothing to do with the pruning of the trees,” she said in an email. “The new county landscaper showed up right before Christmas and told us what he was going to do with the trees.”

Donaldson said the contractor came by shortly before people left for Christmas break. He said he had taken over the landscaping contract, the county’s Maloof building and the new county courthouse.

She said she doesn’t know the contractor’s name.

“It was one of those passive conversations,” she said.

Donaldson said crews filming the upcoming Mark Wahlberg movie “Mile 22” had the courthouse booked for three months but didn’t start filming until Tuesday of this week.

“They were just as surprised as we were,” she said, noting the crews have “been nothing but super conscientious about everything. They followed all the proper procedures. They didn’t have anything to do with it.”

So, who did? The county says once they find out, they’ll let Decaturish know. In the meantime, Decaturish has filed a records request for a copy of the contract and any work orders involving trees at the historic courthouse.

Avent called the damage “a crying shame.”

“It’s a hack job,” she said.

A damaged three at the DeKalb County Courthouse. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

A damaged three at the DeKalb County Courthouse. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

A damaged three at the DeKalb County Courthouse. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

A damaged three at the DeKalb County Courthouse. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

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