ROCKLEDGE, Fla. — Confusion over the removal of oak trees on a scenic street along the Indian River came to a boiling point Tuesday.

  • "We live here because of these majestic oak trees," 1 resident says
  • County wants to remove 18 diseased trees, prune back 24 others
  • Resident confronted county commissioner during Tuesday meeting

Things got heated between District 4 Commissioner Curt Smith and resident Michelle Maricic during a break in a county commission meeting.

"You aren't trying to work with anybody," Smith told her.

"Yes I am," countered Maricic.

"Not by sabotaging our efforts to educate the people," Smith fired back.

Maricic, a 28-year resident of Rockledge Drive, is concerned about losing the view on her street. The two-lane, oak tree-lined road hugs the Indian River.

"We live here because of these majestic oak trees," she said. "It's a scenic byway, nationally recognized. The beauty (is) to be able to walk or run, take our dogs out, enjoy biking."

Three weeks ago, word spread of a county initiative involving 42 of the old oaks after an RV owner struck one of the branches over the road. County statistics show 24 reported crashes on Rockledge Drive since 2014. Nine involved hitting a tree, and four crashes involved a vehicle hitting a low-hanging branch.

"These trees are not the fault of that," Maricic said. "We need to be responsible when driving down a road that had been preserved for so long."

Smith says there's been a lot of misinformation being spread, including an alleged email sent from neighbors saying a tree informational meeting was canceled.

"If they had come to the meeting I put together last week, they would know exactly what we were going to do," he said before the confrontation. "Our purpose is to maintain the beauty of that stretch but also provide a safe roadway."

The county arborist says of the 42 trees, 18 diseased trees are designated for removal. Twenty-four must be pruned to follow Department of Transportation regulations that require enough clearance for large trucks and emergency vehicles to get through.

The county plan also includes planting young "legacy" oak trees along the road that will grow to maturity in the coming decades. Each could be pruned to continue the canopy over the street.

"That we want to harm that street, or intentionally harm those trees, is absurd," Smith said.

But "give us the opportunity to hire our own arborist," Maricic said. "Give us the opportunity to collaborate with them."