Tree decision necessary, organizers say

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; Not everyone in Natchez is ready for a new tradition.

A decision to move the town’s Christmas tree from the Main and Commerce intersection has left some local residents outraged, but organizers say they have no other choice because of liability concerns.

&uot;This is a major issue for the city of Natchez, not something that needs to be done away with and changed in one meeting … without the full community being involved,&uot; resident Tye Mims said.

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Due to concern about liability issues from Entergy, which lights the tree, and other organizations that financially support it, those groups proposed planting a permanent tree on the Mississippi River bluff.

Natchez Downtown Development Association Director Tammi Mullins participated in a recent meeting at which the decision was made.

&uot;It was a collective decision where we sat down and weighed the pros and cons,&uot; Mullins said. &uot;I don’t like it, but I think it’s something we need to do.&uot;

Mullins said representatives from Entergy, First Natchez Radio and the city were present to discuss liability issues. Possible liability concerns include damage done to surrounding buildings when the tree is installed and car accidents with the base of the tree.

Traffic maintenance supervisor for the city Rick Freeman said he did not know of past problems caused by the tree, but that it was a major risk.

If there was an accident any of the sponsors could be sued, Mullins said.

&uot;Our times have changed, people take advantage of things,&uot; Mullins said. &uot;I want us to take a proactive role. I don’t think we need to wait until there is a bad accident or someone is sued.&uot;

Other issues discussed included the cost of installing the tree each year and the amount of manpower needed to do so.

&uot;It’s like starting from scratch every year,&uot; Mullins said. &uot;Year after year it starts to drain resources.&uot;

Alderman Sue Stedman said she was not notified of the discussion beforehand, but that she agrees that it may be time for a change.

&uot;When you are getting volunteer services it is hard to demand that they continue,&uot; Stedman said. &uot;I’m not going to say there isn’t another way, but we are just going to have to look at what those alternatives.&uot;

Margaret Perkins of First Natchez Radio also participated in the discussion.

&uot;I grew up here and I expect that tree to be at the corner every year,&uot; she said. &uot;But today it just isn’t practical. If someone were to run into the tree, the voltage could kill them, start a fire and burn the nearby buildings.&uot;

All parties involved said a final decision has not been made.

Plans for the new Christmas tree location include a light display surrounding the tree and down Broadway.

&uot;If you take a positive outlook and think about a new tradition and the people it can bring here, it is a great opportunity,&uot; Perkins said.