SANDBRIDGE — Sandbridge Road, the winding thoroughfare that leads to the cul-de-sac community, has drawn its share of attention from the media and private citizens alike.
Anyone who lives at the road’s end cannot dispute the beauty of the path when it is an open stretch of road uncluttered by cars, water and debris. The untamed magnificence of the loblolly forests that lines the final miles approaching the beach community creates a welcoming entrance.
Recently, that has changed because of a southern pine beetle infestation.
The problem with these particular pests is that the beetles attack weakened or stressed trees and kill the host pines to reproduce, said Doug Brewer, refuge manager at the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of Sandbridge.
Beetles attack trees en masse, causing significant damage, which later impacts the habitats of indigenous wildlife. In addition, human safety and property are threatened by beetle-killed trees, which may be susceptible to fire, as well as falling onto roads or power lines. Removal costs may exceed the tree’s value.
The city noticed the issue of declining trees late last year and consulted with the state. According to the city, a “small portion of the area affected” is on city property, mainly in city right of way along side the east end of the road.
The city began cutting down damaged trees along the road this past month.
Brewer said most of the infected trees were on property owned by the city because the refuge doesn’t own the land right next to the road. Nature will take its course if there are diseased trees on refuge property that do not pose a safety concern, he said.
Brewer said large-scale removal of downed trees would not be possible without harming the ecosystem because the land along Sandbridge Road is very wet most of the year.
“There are some areas where trees may need to be removed to allow access to refuge sites, but, on the whole, the removal is not feasible for the city,” Brewer said. “Heavy equipment needed to remove the trees would create extensive soil and vegetation damage, which would be much harder to repair. The area will continue to green up, and the downed trees will become less visible.”
“That type of activity could cause irreparable damage to the wetland,” city arborist Susan French wrote in an email, speaking of removing felled trees.
French, via email, wrote that the city landscape management division is committed to maintaining public safety along the roadway by using its in-house tree crew.
She wrote that she informed Dominion Virginia Power of the insect infestation after it was identified by the Virginia Department of Forestry. Declining or dead “trees that were initially removed were within the Dominion Virginia Power easement,” she wrote. “That work was carried out in the interest of maintaining the easement and preventing disruption of service.”
Some residents are concerned about the eyesore.
“The way it looks right now is just trashy,” said Nicole Roper, who has lived in Sandbridge her entire life. “It looks like a hurricane came through and nobody cleaned up after themselves.”
Lydia Casey, who has lived in Sandbridge for 15 years, sees the necessity of taking the trees down. She had a tree fall on her car when the ground was saturated, and she said she knows how scary that can be. She just doesn’t want them left there.
“It looks like a tornado went through there,” she said. “I’m wondering why they aren’t removing them.”
The city has no plans to clean up the downed trees, French wrote. Officials anticipate new vegetation will conceal the area and help preserve the habitat.
The tree work along the road was ongoing in April. French had hoped most of the work that they plan on doing would have been completed by April, but weather delays mean it will probably be finished in May.