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Banyan tree battle in St. Petersburg: City said it’s deteriorating, locals disagree

Pinellas County

ST.PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) – A historic banyan tree is being cut down in St. Petersburg. The city said it’s deteriorating, but not without a lot of pushback from the community.

“My heart hurts, I’m crying now. I just…I can’t see why they had to do it,” said Ginger Jenkins who lives in the neighborhood on Granville Court North.

Jenkins is one of many neighbors who said the tree looks healthy. This petition to keep the tree has more than 1,400 signatures as of the article’s publication.

“It’s beyond saving unfortunately,” said Ben Kirby, Communications Director for the City of St.Pete.

Here’s the confusion. In April, the city said with pruning, they thought the tree could be saved. Then, a private owner bought the property, hired a private arborist from “El Cheapo Tree Service” who took the below aerial shots, which they say reveals decay. The city took a second look and agreed, it had to go.

“This is not something the city is looking forward to doing, it’s something we have to do for public safety,” said Kirby.

He said the city works to preserve the historic trees and referenced the city website for details about how they do that.

Police were called to the scene of the tree getting cut down Friday when those protesting the tree’s removal said they were physically pushed out of the work area by workers.

The Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, known as F.I.R.E.E., isn’t buying it.

“Oh yeah, you’re here for the city, part of the people? No, you’re not, you’re here for the funding. That’s all,” said Stuart Flores, apart of F.I.R.E.E.

“Yes, of course. These trees are protected by the state,” said Kirby.

“If the tree is a living entity as the city-states then the sound of these chainsaws should be like the sounds of a chainsaw on a human. Would you not stop it?” said Alicia Norris, apart of F.I.R.E.E.

Neighbors and the indigenous group say their next step is to protect the two other banyan trees on the block from getting cut down.

We spoke with the arborist from El Chepo Tree Service who said he agrees, the other two banyan trees can be saved if they’re properly preserved.

The city sent 8 On Your Side the below documentation breaking down the incident in more detail.

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