Tree stands in path of current levee alignment
Hidden in a Des Allemands backyard is a towering cypress tree that’s been described as a treasure, but its future is uncertain even though it bears a placard saying it’s been alive since 1803.
Like a natural, historic monument, the tree stands in stately beauty in Murray Dufrene’s backyard. It also rests halfway on the proposed servitude being sought for St. Charles Parish’s West Bank Hurricane Protection Levee, which could mean cutting the tree down to make way for the project.
“My position is I understand I have as much skin in the game,” Dufrene said. “I agree a levee needs to be built and maintained, but they also need to look at options to save the tree. I’m not interested in money for the tree. I want to save the tree.”
Dufrene has initiated a campaign to save what local county agents are saying is a “historical treasure,” which stands near the Paradis Canal and Grand Bayou at the toe of the existing levee.
In the last year, Dufrene has sought help to preserve the tree, but more recently GCR, the parish’s land acquisition contractor for the levee project, has advised it is seeking a portion of his property for a perpetual servitude. He is convinced signing that agreement will doom the tree and is prepared to go to court if necessary to save it.
“There was never an agreement on paper that the levee is on my property so they want to purchase a perpetual servitude,” he said. “They are saying they have no alternative but to cut the tree to meet FEMA’s standards.”
While Dufrene isn’t trying to stop the project, he doesn’t want to see this tree go under the blade.
“There are options that should be looked at for a tree of this magnitude,” he said. “This tree is about 14 feet or more in diameter and probably 70 feet tall.”
In a letter to state officials, Harvey Stern, coordinator with the Louisiana Purchase Cypress Legacy said it is “likely one of the oldest living cypress in St. Charles Parish” based on the organization’s core ring sample taken in 2010 that put its age at more than 300 years old. Stern said he believed this tree would easily qualify as a “tree of value” under Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) provisions to safeguard recognized trees (by age, size and cultural significance).
Stern also asked that the parish and Lafourche Basin Levee District give the tree the same consideration and protection.
Parish President Larry Cochran said they are reviewing Dufrene’s request.
“We are looking into this and are open to saving the tree if it does not impede work on the West Bank Hurricane Levee,” Cochran said. “However, this is a new development and we cannot commit to a decision without doing further research.”Calling it a “parish treasure,” Parish County Agent Rene’ Schmit also appealed to parish officials.
“I can say without hesitation that this cypress tree … is absolutely one of the most unusual, impressive and stately trees to exist in Louisiana,” Schmit said in an Aug. 29 letter to the parish government. “As there are only a handful of aged cypress trees left in the whole of Louisiana, it seems we would want to do everything possible to protect this ‘one-of-a-kind’ majestic tree located in our own backyard.”
Schmit said anyone who knows the parish’s rich history would also know it is a “unique and historical treasure.”
Mike Hebert, Lafourche Parish’s county agent who has assisted Schmit, also asked parish officials to find an alternative that could save a bald cypress that has “withstood all the tests of time.”
“No amount of money could replace a tree of such stature,” Hebert said. “Because there are so few trees of this age and physical health left in the state it would be a travesty to remove it from its current site in Des Allemands. It is part of our history and heritage and if left alone will continue its long life for many more centuries to come. It is a sound, healthy and vibrant tree.”
Dufrene added, “I am not willing to see the tree go down. I do feel very strongly about the tree.”