BRADENTON -- About a year before the American Civil War concluded, a young sapling oak tree in Manatee County was likely sprouting its first leaf.
Since then, the 150-year-old tree on 10th Street West behind Motorworks Brewing has survived powerful hurricanes and what can be even more fatal to trees: progress.
It was progress that almost doomed the tree until the Bradenton tree board met this week and voted to make every effort to save the oak -- even if it means delaying a long-awaited stormwater drain project to help alleviate consistent street flooding from Ninth Street West southward to 10th Street West.
City officials, residents, business owners and arborist experts gathered to discuss how the city could save the tree within the scope of the needed construction.
"We knew this project would disrupt the tree's root system, and we were concerned the tree would not survive the construction due to its location right up against the road and within a very small right of way," said Public Works Direc
tor Claude Tankersley. "Our initial thought was to go ahead and remove the tree, because if we planted a new tree today, we wouldn't put one there. We thought it was best to go ahead and remove it rather than risk killing it slowly and then put multiple trees in its place, but further from the road."
Even though the neighborhood knows how important the stormwater project is, Tankersley said he knew it would be an unpopular course of action. A sign hanging from the tree that reads "Save Our Tree" is evidence of that.
Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff attended the meeting Thursday to speak up for saving the tree.
"In my opinion, the tree has been there longer than the city has," said Roff. "I thought this project could happen without condemning the tree, and I'm happy to see that everything will be done to save it."
Tankersley said the effort to save the tree could delay the stormwater drain project by as much as two months.
"After hearing from the experts that they are cautiously optimistic the tree can be saved, we will proceed with caution," he said. "Our approach will be to carefully excavate and inventory the roots we will have to cut through. At that time, we'll bring the arborist experts in and they will make the determination if it will be too overwhelming for the tree or if it can survive.
"Hopefully, the goal will be to take care of the flooding and save the tree, but if unfortunately we lose the tree, we tried our best at that point."
The key is to trim the canopy back in comparison to the percentage of root system that will be disrupted.
"My understanding is that will give the tree the best chance to survive," Tankersley said.
The city began taking bids for the stormwater project on Friday. The plan was to move into construction no later than August and be completed no later than November.
"But now we are stepping back and being more cautious with the tree, so that may slow the project down by a month or two," said Tankersley. "We will do everything we can to accomplish both goals and will rely heavily on the tree board experts. With the board's decision and explanation, I think we have a good chance to save the tree."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.