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Kinder, gentler roadworks

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Road crews in the North County are operating under a new mandate for environmental sensitivity, according to Max Keller, North County section supervisor for the SLO County Public Works Department.
 
A resurfacing project for scenic Pozo Road is the first one where “we’re taking a maintenance project and making it an environmental project� by preserving most of the oak trees growing in the public right-of-way along the edge of the road, says Keller.
 
“Years ago, we would have clearcut everything. But those trees are very important. They stop erosion and make our roads stronger,� the 45-year-old supervisor  explains. He’s been in that position for six months, the latest step in a 25-year career with the county road department, after working for years as an equipment operator. “It’s a new generation; it’s not the old rip-and-tear method. A lot of us who were on the equipment were saying, ‘This isn’t right,’ and now we’re in a decision-making position,� Keller notes.
 
After 20 hours inspecting the roadside oaks, he says he marked just 13 for removal last week. “There’s a lot of sensitivity that’s gone into this,� he explains. “I know there’s been butchering in the past. But I do feel bad; I know how much time you can spend staring at a tree grow, and then watch it cut down in seconds.�
 
He admits, though, that it’s taking some time for word to filter down to the workers with the chainsaws, who were observed recently destroying several sturdy 50- to 60-year-old valley oaks. One worker told New Times, “Those aren’t trees. They’re dead,� apparently mistaking the bare-branched deciduous look of the healthy oaks.
 
“We’re doing more to talk to our operators,� Keller says, expressing growing concern for the county’s mature trees. “With all the building, sudden oak death, and pine pitch canker ... I watched a whole forest die in Cambria.�
 
Keller says county decision makers have to consider liability issues too. “You do have the right to drive down the road and not hit a branch or a tree. We had quite a few sites where limbs were growing into the road. If we don’t prune them back and somebody hits a limb, there’s liability.� The offending branches have already been hacked off. ∆

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