There was not a seat to be found in the Jones County Board of Supervisors meeting room as the public awaited the discussion on the agenda about liability concerns for the popular Hula Hoop Tree outside Amber Sept. 10.
When it got to the part of the agenda where it was time to discuss the tree, Supervisor Jon Zirkelbach made it clear what the discussion would and would not be.
“We are talking about the liability of that and safety,” he said. “We’re not talking about the future of the tree.”
He further explained that the item was put on the agenda after concerns were brought up by a constituent. Just like if someone had brought up “a bad piece of road,” Zirkelbach said he felt he had to bring it up for discussion.
He did say, however, that the concerns of the constituent mirrored those that he’d had since the tree became a tourist destination.
“I’ve had that thought ever since this whole thing started,” Zirkelbach said.
Jones County Attorney Kristofer Lyons was on hand to give his opinion and outlined a couple of concerns. The first, and least likely was if the tree was to fall down. Secondly, there were concerns about the cars parked on the side of the road and people running back and forth across the road.
The overall issue is if something does happen out there, the county knows that it has become a popular destination. Therefore, Lyons said the liability conversation was one that had to happen.
Sheriff Greg Graver said people aren’t parking or standing in the roadway and people are getting fully off the roadway when they park, as far as what he’s seen personally. The only calls for service he’s had out there were for the arson that occurred in 2017 and two calls early on when people saw cars parked on the road.
“Now everybody knows what they’re doing with their hazards on,” Graver said.
Graver did acknowledge with the curves of the road at the 55 mile per hour speed limit, the location was not ideal.
“Obviously, the concern is if I’m picking a location for probably one of the most popular tourist areas in Jones County…I would not pick that location,” he said.
Some in the audience wondered if some simple fixes would solve the problem, like making a sign or lowering the speed limit. Before coming to any decisions, the supervisors decided it should be determined whether the tree was on county property or not before the discussion went any further.