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Adding leafy life to concrete sprawl

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The makeover of some of Clearwater’s streets is part of the county’s 6-year-old road renovation program funded by the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. By CAMERON THIBOS Published July 11, 2005 CLEARWATER – Clearwater’s roads are growing again, but this time they are growing up. In May, Pinellas County began planting palm trees and other greenery along the medians of Keene and Belcher roads. This touch of life now separating the sprawling lanes of concrete is the county’s latest addition to its roadway beautification project. “(The project) appears to be a priority among the public,” Pinellas County Division Engineer Ivan Fernandez said. “When you spend as much time on the roadways as we do, it seems that landscaping makes that a bit more positive experience.” The county has renovated two or three roads every year since 1999 for an annual price tag of $501,000, funded by the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. The proposed 2006 budget includes a 20 percent increase to $601,000 for the project. Last year, Pinellas tackled sections of Belcher Road, Tampa Road and County Road 1. Installing trees is the final phase of two construction projects in Clearwater this year. Pinellas will renovate a third median in Palm Harbor during the fall. The affected roads are: Belcher Road from Palmetto to Main Street, to finish next month; Keene Road from Sunset Point to Druid Road, to finish Aug. 22; and County Road 1 in Palm Harbor from Tampa Road to New York Avenue, to begin Aug. 22 and finish February. Ordered rows of small, leafy trees, ferns and flowers embedded in dark mulch complement the 20-foot palms stretching down Keene Road. Metal and wood shackles hold the palms upright and secure while the trees take root over the next year. The sabal palm, aside from being the state tree, suits the location in the medians for several reasons. It is drought and salt tolerant, rises well above the roofs of passing semitrailer trucks and does not obstruct a driver’s field of vision. It also withstands high winds, an important consideration in the midst of hurricane season. Sabal palms retail for about $320 each, including installation, said the Garden Room nursery in Clearwater. The county purchased the 55 palms in the current phase of the project for $200 each. Ed Huckery of Vila and Son, the project’s contracting firm, said the wooden tethers will hold the tree fast even under dangerous conditions, making it less likely the trees will turn into 20-foot missiles when storms hit. “When sabal palms are put into the ground, they’re put in with a hurricane cut.” Huckery said, referring to the alfalfa sprout of a frond capping each brown trunk. “There’s extremely little wind resistance … it’s just a pole sitting out there.” Pamela Crawford, author of the book Stormscaping: Landscaping to Minimize Wind Damage in Florida , said after a sabal grabs hold of the dirt it is extremely difficult to pull back out. “They have unbelievably strong roots,” Crawford said. “It takes an awful lot to blow one of those over.” Summer is the ideal time to plant sabal palms, Crawford added. The intense tropical rains and sun provide exactly what the trees need to grow. “(Sabal palms) thrive in the heat of summer,” Crawford said. “There’s no question that we need to be planting now.” Source:
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