AUBURN, Alabama -- Auburn University broke ground today on a project to remove contaminated soil from Toomer's Corner and replace the school's iconic oak trees that were poisoned by a rival fan in 2010.
Until their removal a year ago, Auburn Tigers fans traditionally festooned the oaks with toilet paper to celebrate football victories.
According to university officials, the project will redevelop Samford Park at the corner, installing new pavers, removing contaminated soil and adding a circular seating wall before the start of the 2014 football season.
Contrary to the university's original plan, the new oak trees will not be planted until the spring of 2015, after football season.
Auburn University horticulture professor Gary Keever has attributed the delay to significant levels of the herbicide still present in the soil and the spring planting season increasing the oaks' survivability.An artistic rendering shows how Samford Park at Toomer's Corner might appear after Auburn University's ongoing redevelopment project. (Courtesy of Auburn University)
Harvey Updyke Jr., a retired Texas state trooper, pleaded guilty last year to poisoning the oaks with the commercial herbicide Spike 80DF after the Alabama Crimson Tide lost the 2010 Iron Bowl match-up to Auburn
According to court testimony, initial soil samples at the site showed a concentration of 0.78 to 51.7 parts per million. Spike 80DF is lethal to plants at just 0.1 parts per million.
The university estimated in court documents that the cost of removing the contaminated soil would be approximately 5,780.
Including a latter phase to redevelop the interior of Samford Park, university officials estimate the entire project will cost between .2 million and million.
After serving six months in jail, Updyke was released on probation and ordered to pay 6,732 in damages to Auburn University at a rate of 0 per month.
Even after the new trees are planted, it will be years before Auburn Tigers fans can resume the tradition of festooning them with toilet paper, Keever said.
How many years will depend on how quickly the replacements establish in their new home, he said.
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