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Keesler Announces Plan for Oak Park Housing Area, Katrina Damaged Trees to be Removed
Story by Susan Griggs           Filed 10/14/06 GCN

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. - A recent town hall meeting provided about 50 residents of the neighborhood adjoining Oak Park military family housing with an update on Keesler's immediate and long-range plans for the area..

Oak Park was slammed by Hurricane Katrina's storm surge from Biloxi's Back Bay, destroying many homes and flooding others. High winds toppled trees that crushed many residences.

Damaged Keesler homes won't be rebuilt, and demolition is under way to remove those still standing and associated utilities, according to Lt. Col. Ray Mottley, 81st Civil Engineer Squadron commander, who conducted the meeting.

Keesler lost six acres in Oak Park due to new Federal Emergency Management Agency flood contours.  The base plans to incorporate its Oak Park property into the main base, primarily because of force protection requirements and expansion at Keesler Medical Center immediately to the south.

Construction of an eight foot-high metal fence begins soon and should be finished by March, Colonel Mottley said.

Plans call for a 50- to75-foot green space buffer between the fence and the property line.  Parts of St. George, Tremont and Concord Circles and St.Andrews Fairway are being demolished to reduce storm runoff and maintenance costs.  Fire hydrants and street lights remain in place.  Turnarounds are planned for Kensington Drive and Concord Circle, with streets to be widened if necessary.

The medical center's central energy plant, about 160feet from the Oak Park border, is being relocated to protect vital equipment from flooding in the future. New landscaping is planned along this portion of the perimeter fence. 

Colonel Mottley said a temporary gate supports inbound construction traffic for the next two to four years, while 16 new projects totaling more than $540 million are under way. Efforts are being made to divert construction traffic from residential streets.  A temporary storage area for materials to support Keesler's$287.8 million housing construction program over the next four years is being located in Oak Park's southwest corner.

After Katrina recovery projects are completed, base officials plan to use the Oak Park property for recreational purposes, child care facility expansion and recreational vehicle storage.

Trees to be Removed

More than 14 months after Hurricane Katrina, Keesler's trees are still feeling the punch from the storm's mighty winds.

Trees continue to be removed throughout the base and its housing areas, according to Jim Aalbertsberg, a construction manager in the project management office for the 81st Civil Engineer Squadron.

"Fallen and damaged trees have been taken down ever since the storm subsided," Mr. Aalbertsberg pointed out. "Immediately after the storm, military crews began removing trees that were identified as an immediate danger or safety hazard. Then contractors took over the removal of damaged trees.

"Now we're encountering trees, particularly pines, that have suffered residual effects," he added.

The "stress and flex" caused by Katrina's high winds caused internal damage that eventually kills the trees. Also, stressed trees secrete chemical substances called pheromones that attract pine bark beetles that burrow into the wood and cut off nourishment.

About 400 dead and dying pines are being taken down in the Oak Park housing area. An estimated 300 trees on the main base and about 350 scattered through base housing areas are on the removal list.

"About 95 percent are pine trees," Mr. Aalbertsberg noted. 

Keesler is in the process of replacing about 600 of the 3,800 of the trees previously lost as part of a $4.9 million landscaping project. Replacing other trees is planned through future landscaping work and new housing construction.



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