Landscape consultant Mike Miller stands in front of several Australian pines in Gulf Park near the beach access of Willow Avenue. The pines would be removed as non-native species under his landscaping plan. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin
A plan by Anna Maria landscape consultant Mike Miller with the concurrence of public works director George McKay to remove six or seven Australian pines from city-owned Gulf Park between Willow and Cedar avenues has drawn fire from some tree supporters.
David Rogerson of Gulf Drive in Anna Maria wrote in a letter to the editor and Mayor Mike Selby that he rejects a claim by Commission Chair Chuck Webb that Australian pines keep native plants from growing underneath its branches.
“They have not killed any of these vegetation as Commissioner Webb has alluded,” Rogerson wrote.
When Anna Maria announced a plan to cut down some Australian pines in the city right of way in October 2004, members of the Stop Taking Our Pines protested long and loud to then-Mayor SueLynn about removing the trees. The city, however, had an order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to remove invasive trees and plants from city property wherever possible and proceeded with the removal.
Rogerson claimed in his letter that the recent cleanup of the city park was a “botched procedure” that resulted in some buttonwood trees that were 10-feet tall or higher cut down to ground level. He wrote that chainsaws killed many buttonwoods just to provide a view for a homeowner.
“How does an individual’s desire trump the interest of citizens?” Rogerson wrote. He claimed a real estate developer is behind the effort to clean out the pine trees.
“Those trees belong to the citizens of Anna Maria, not one individual,” he said.
That cleanup effort by Willow Avenue resident Ed Moss began in July, before the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office renewed its search for the body of Holmes Beach motel-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, who was last seen in 2008. While Moss was clearing the park, he discovered some of Musil-Buehler’s personal belongings.
The MCSO began another search for her body and excavated a portion of the park and beach area, but without success.
Rogerson wrote that the MCSO should restore the area of the park and beach it tore up in the search.
Anna Maria should be preserving the Australian pines, not replacing them with other species, Rogerson wrote, and urged Selby to tell Webb to “STOP-stop taking our pines.”
He said he planned to organize a group of like-minded people to attend the next commission meeting and protest any removal of Australian pines.
The MCSO has said it plans to restore the dunes and sea oats that it excavated during the search.
And, according to Miller, the MCSO had DEP permission to dig.
Miller assisted the MCSO team with the beach dig. He said he also helped with the MCSO’s plans to restore the dunes and replant the sea oats.
The outcry about the pines was not unexpected, said McKay.
When he informed commissioners at their Sept. 8 meeting of the plan to remove the Australian pines, McKay said there would be “controversy” on both sides.
Miller said some of the funding for the removal is coming from a person who wants to remain anonymous. He said the donor wants the focus to be on the park, and Miller is seeking other donations to help pay for the removal of invasive species from the park. He said he has no plans to approach the commission for funds.
Commissioners agreed with the concept, but asked to see a landscaping study. The commission suggested McKay plan on removing the Australian pines and replacing them with native species.
The removal of exotic plants from other public properties has been ongoing by Miller for some time. Additionally, the removal of Australian pines from city property is approved and encouraged by the DEP.
Rogerson said the city should ignore the DEP.
“As far as I’m concerned, they are a terrorist organization, just like the EPA. We don’t have to do what they say,” he said.
Miller said Australian pines may look nice, but they are a non-native species that stifle the growth of native plants. One of the few plants that will grow under an Australian pine is mother-in-law tongue, also an invasive species.
Australian pines also are a danger in a hurricane, he said, because they do not have deep root structures and can easily topple in hurricane-strength winds.
Rogerson dismissed Miller’s opinion of Australian pines and suggested he talk to all the people who go to the beach at the park and use the pines for shade from the sun.
Miller countered that the pines scheduled for removal under his plan are not at the north end of the park, but at the southern end between Willow and Cedar avenues.
Shawn and wife Jennifer Kaleta are buying the Moss home — the property that fronts the beach where the park and the subject pine trees are located.
Shawn Kaleta told The Islander his plans are to restore and raise his family in the Moss “cottage” and, he added, stories circulating that he will develop multiple homes there are not true.
He said he plans to either fully trim back or remove the pines on his property that threaten damage to the home in a storm event, and he would encourage a plan to maintain — trim existing pine trees in the park — and develop a long-term replacement plan that would include adding native species.