Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hosp Authority

"Chain Saw Jack" Berry & Gov's LSHA Board Vote to Cut Down Lake DeSoto Trees

The Governor's all white LSHA Board voted to clear cut all these trees in the little park in the African American community. Manager Berry called the park an "illegal drug store."

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Monday night, Jackson P. "Jack" Berry and the LSHA voted to clear cut one of the most beautiful areas of trees around Lake DeSoto, saving just a handful of palm trees. The Hospital Authority leases the land to Community Health Systems (CHS). It is not clear if CHS is going to give Berry clear-cutting permission.

Not even close to the hospital, this tree is scheduled for the Berry chain saw.

February 8th: Berry Springs Tree Removal During Meeting

As the February 8, 2016, LSHA Board meeting drew to a close, Authority Manager Berry sprung a "problem" on Governor Scott's Authority Board:

"I'm gonna bring up a problem. On the south end of the hospital – the southeast end of the hospital there's some extremely large pine trees there, some of which if a hurricane comes through would blow some of em' down and hit the hospital. I think as a safety measure we ought to seriously look at cuttin' those trees. There's 23 pines and nine hardwoods. I spoke with Rhonda about it and I think you agree with me -- don't you Rhonda?"

Rhonda Sherrod, the hospital's CEO response was unintelligible.

Manager Berry continued:

 "We need to get those pines outa' there. And if the Board wants to do that, I'll be glad to get some bids on it. We may can get enough money out of the pine trees to clean up the mess. I mean, if you like I'll get some bids on it and bring it back to the board."

The trees close by the hospital have withstood tropical storms and hurricanes for 50 years.

Board member Ron Foreman asked no questions and wasted no time, "Get on the hill."

Chairwoman Chancy suggested, "All of you ride there and see what he's talking about."

Manager Berry followed up, "Oh, you can't miss it. You can see those pines there. Some of em' are about 10 feet from the buildin' and if they fall on that buildin' it's gonna cost a lot of money to fix."

February 16th: Berry Springs Tree Removal News on City

During the February 16, 2016, Lake City Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee (CRAC) meeting, Manager Berry sprung the tree removal on the City.

Mr. Berry told the Committee (as spoken):

"We're lookin' at -- do you know where that group of pine trees is on the southeast corner of the hospital. We're presently gettin' bids to cut those. There – it's too big -- gettin' too close to the hospital. So we're lookin' at kinda clearin' that parkin' lot out there."

The only tree left here will be the palm tree.

City Councilwoman Melinda Moses asked, "Where the picnic tables are, in that area?"

Manager Berry answered, "Yeah. Right. That's correct. Once we get those things outa' there, then we'll do somethin' with that."

Councilwoman Moses responded, "It will be nice."

Mr. Berry showed no photos, plans, or anything to the CRAC. The Committee, whose purpose is to advise the City Council, asked no questions.

A short way down the road from the tree removal area is a helipad. The helipad is primarily used for outbound transport.

Mr. Berry concluded his tree removal discussion by telling the CRAC, "We are lookin' at movin' that helipad."

March 14: "Chain Saw Jack" Gets His Way

Before the Board's tree removal discussion, your reporter addressed the issue:

"As far as the trees and the moving of the helipad, you may be putting the cart before the horse. I believe you need an FAA approval to move the heliport. Mr. Berry announced, apparently before he met [with] this board, that he was considering moving this at a meeting in the City. You would think he would tell this board what he was going to do, before he told the City, but that's the way Mr. Berry operates.

The trees -- that's an abomination -- those happen to be the finest stand of trees along Lake DeSoto. They've withstood many hurricanes throughout the years and they've never blown down. If Mr. Berry thinks that all of a sudden he's an astronomer or a weatherman, I'm looking forward to the conversation for some sort of explanation."

Authority Chair Lory Chancy kicked off the tree removal conversation, "We asked Mr. Berry to get some bids on tree removal."

All these trees are scheduled for the Berry-Board chain saw.

Manager Berry announced, "We got the bids. There's 4 people that bid on it. They range from 14,000 to 34,300... The low bidder has insurance. He does work for DOT."

(The Observer is planning a follow-up on the bungled Berry bid process for the tree removal and what appears, at the present time, to be the lack of any written specifications for the bidders).

The trees along the road, which aren't close to the hospital, are scheduled for the chain saw.

Board member Ron Foreman asked, "Is [sic] there any future plans for what you're going to do with that land absent of the trees?"

Mr. Berry answered, "Absolutely not at this time." He said he had a conversation with DOT and they said there may be a time "that we may be forced to move the helipad. I never said I was gonna move the helipad."

Mr. Berry then said, "It was brought up a City meeting." This was deceptive, as it was Mr. Berry that brought up the helipad.

Mr. Berry continued, "I told em' the same thing I'm tellin' you. That's how things get blown out of proportion. But if we had to move the helipad it's possible we could put it there. And it's possible, we can't. We hadn't got into it yet."

Mr. Foreman asked, "The replanting of trees to replace the ones we've taken down will be contingent upon future development of that land?"

Mr. Berry didn't miss a beat, "Absolutely."

The hospital is on the left, the park area is next. Just past the right edge of the photo is the helipad. "Chain Saw Jack" is scheduling most of the trees in the frame for clear cutting.

Manager Berry provided neither time-lines, plans, photographs, nor drawings of the virtual clear cut area to-be.

Mr. Berry continued, "We're not even sure we're gonna' have to move the helipad, but if we did, that would be an ideal place if we could get in there with the FAA regulations and everything. It's something that would have to be determined at that time."

Mr. Foreman asked, "You're taking the trees down to ensure the protection of the buildings we currently own?"

Illegal Drug Store

Mr. Berry interrupted, "That, and to close the illegal drug store over there at night."

Your reporter asked, "The what?"

No one answered. This is the first time this has ever been brought up at the Authority or the City in any public meeting.

Sam the turtle may be talking a last look at the trees along his home in Lake DeSoto.

Board member Tim Murphy added, "We're talkin' about pretty much about all them pine trees right there in that little park over there."


"That little park over there," according to former City Councilman Jake Hill, "is in the African-American Community."

Governor Scott's Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board is all white.

Mr. Hill told the Observer, "It would have been nice if someone asked us about cutting down the trees."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On March 17, 2016, C from Tampa wrote:

What a rotten shame -- an abomination, to take down those lovely trees that add so much shade and natural beauty to the area. If there's an "illegal drug store" going on there, there are better ways to address it. This is downright wrong-headed.


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LSHA 8 (clockwise from top):
Koby Adams - political operative and Liz Porter's Chief of staff
Brandon Biel - latest Scott appointee and a young republican on the move
Dr. Waseem Khan - a board member who
lives out of the county
Janet Creel - real estate broker
Ron Foreman - father of the County Atny
Tim Murphy - a nice guy, talented welder, clueless about government
Board Chairwoman Lory Chancy - her main job appears to be not to answer questions and to protect Columbia County's legendary political operative, Jackson P. "Jack" Berry (in the middle).