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Demens Landing residents angered by mangrove's severe cutting

Mangroves, foreground, next to Demen's Landing gate 4 were cut down last Thursday without the city arborist's permission. Healthy mangroves can be seen in the background, center. The view is looking east toward Tampa Bay. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Aug. 19, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — An investigation is under way to determine who improperly trimmed a large mangrove tree down to its roots last week at Demens Landing.

The problem isn't so much that someone tried to trim the mangrove as much as the way they trimmed it.

"That wasn't really trimming, what they did, it was an alteration," said Conor Petren, an environmental specialist for Pinellas County. "Which means, you change the basic nature of the tree by cutting it down to a stub, pretty much."

The responsible party will be fined between $100 and $10,000 and will need to propose a method of "mitigation" for the damage, he said.

Petren examined the tree on Monday after receiving complaints from residents at the downtown St. Petersburg marina. The tree, which is actually a collection of several trunks, was cut to below 6 feet tall and a large portion of its leaves were removed, against code.

The county has strict rules that govern how and when a mangrove can be trimmed or removed.

At least half the tree will likely die because of the improper trim, he said.

While it's unclear who cut the tree, one resident reported seeing a city of St. Petersburg truck at the site.

Several people at the city said they didn't know if the city was responsible.

On Monday afternoon, Mike Jefferies, St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation supervisor, said the city is still investigating and has not determined who cut down the tree.

Marina residents are still incensed.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Richard O'Connor, who lives on a houseboat there. The tree didn't seem to be blocking anything but a series of cameras mounted on a light pole nearby, he said.

He wrote a letter to Mayor Rick Kriseman and the marina's management in an effort to determine who ordered the trimming.

Demens Landing manager Joan McGowan said the incident was under investigation but would not provide details.

The city's arborist, Mike Vineyard, said he wasn't made aware of any plans to trim the tree.

If allowed to mature, mangroves can grow up to 25 feet. Their branches provide a habitat for birds, and their roots give shelter to creatures like fish at the beginning of their life cycles, Petren said. Their leaves provide food for sea life.

A mangrove across the ramp from the now-stunted tree provides the same habitat.

"This is home, this is their home," said Kevin Shuppert, gesturing to a night crane on a branch near his house boat on Monday. "That bird spends its night up in the high branch every night."

O'Connor said he hopes someone is held responsible.

"If they aren't, it really defeats the purpose of passing regulations to help the environment," O'Connor said.

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