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Historic banyan being cleared

October 31, 2017 - 9:10pm

HILO — A contractor’s crew is clearing a large banyan tree that fell next to the gym earlier this month at Honomu Park.

The company, Arborist Services, also is contracted to remove a second towering banyan tree that remains standing after being trimmed on one side. Owner Mark O’Dell said he couldn’t estimate when the work will be complete because that will depend on how well the standing tree is rooted.

Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe said the work will cost the county $165,000. He said the county remains concerned that the second tree could fall on nearby houses.

The other tree fell after also being trimmed, causing some to question whether the trimming made it off-balance and easier to topple during a recent storm.

“We love trees,” Okabe said. “We have a lot of trees on the Big Island. But, when it comes down to safety, we need to address it very quickly.”

According to nearby residents, the trees were planted during World War II as a memorial for soldiers from the plantation village.

Sisters Monica DeCosta and Sandra Konanui said their grandmother planted one of them for their two uncles, both of whom returned after the war.

They said they have no problem with the county removing it because they’re worried it could fall on them.

“We have no choice,” Konanui said.

Before the trees were trimmed, the county was looking to remove them. But many Honomu residents pleaded with the county in the spring to spare the trees.

Okabe said the county is looking to do an assessment of trees on county land. That includes other banyan trees, such as those on Banyan Drive in Hilo, which the county is responsible for maintaining. That could involve contracting again with an arborist.

In 2016, the county first budgeted $47,000 to hire its own arborist.

Okabe said the position remains vacant.

He said he plans to meet with the Public Works Department to discuss whether the position should be filled.

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