State Control of Tree Cutting? “Clearing trees from I-95 in Georgia will make roads safer, DOT says”

State Control of Tree Cutting? “Clearing trees from I-95 in Georgia will make roads safer, DOT says”

Photo: The Florida Times Union

“The drive along Interstate 95 in Georgia gets uglier by the day as trees are taken down, but state transportation officials say the clear cutting will improve safety.

The ‘vegetative management projects’ along I-95 are aimed at reducing the number of traffic fatalities and serious injuries along the interstate corridors in the state’s coastal region, said Jill Nagel, spokeswoman for the DOT’s District 5 office in Jesup…

The projects consist of removing all the vegetation inside the right-of-way and anything that’s hanging over the fence. All the cut trees and brush is then mulched flush with the ground, Nagel said.

Actually, not all of it. One of the contract companies loaded a couple of trailers with saw timber pine logs Tuesday at the Woodbine exit.

No grubbing will be permitted so the soil surface won’t be disturbed to remove stumps or roots.

Photo: The Florida Times Union

The clearing of trees will benefit billboard companies who will no longer need to get permits to cut trees to ensure their signs can be seen.

Starting in 1963, the Garden Club of Georgia had lobbied for control of signs on Georgia roadways and was successful in getting hundreds removed. More than 15 years ago, the Georgia legislature adopted a statute to allow the clearing of trees from in front of billboards. The Garden Club sued saying the law violated the gratuities clause of the Georgia constitution but the courts ruled that billboards also benefited Georgians…

The DOT is monitoring the projects to ensure the work results in visual quality.”

— Terry Dickson, The Florida Times Union

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Legal: “Jax City Council defends tree canopy against ‘sledgehammer’ government in Tallahassee”

Legal: “Jax City Council defends tree canopy against ‘sledgehammer’ government in Tallahassee”

Photo: Steve Bisson
“The Jacksonville City Council approved legislation this week that opposes a state bill (HB 521/SB 574) that would cut the heart out of the city’s tree canopy protections.

The state bill, filed by Republican Greg Steube in the Senate and Democrat Katie Edwards in the House, would prohibit cities such as Jacksonville from stopping landowners from removing trees located on their own private property.

The Jacksonville City Council bill (2017-822) contends that the legislation is ‘harmful to the environment and contrary to the overwhelming wishes of Jacksonville citizens,’ and the bills are an ‘ ‘assault on home rule.’

The city passed a referendum in 2000 to protect the city’s tree canopy, with an overwhelming majority (76 percent) voting for the measure.

‘The bill does what Tallahassee does best; preempt local government,” per John Crescimbeni, who introduced the Council bill, a salvo against Tallahassee’s ‘sledgehammer government.’

“I don’t know what happens to them when they get into the hall of government over there,” Crescimbeni said, “but they forget where they came from.”

The bill was moved as an emergency with multiple sponsors. The entire Council agreed to sponsor the bill, which passed unanimously.’ Here is a copy of the resolution.

–A.G. Gancarski, The Florida Times-Union

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Legal Alert: Tree trimming preemption “Steube files bill to abolish city and county tree protections”

Legal Alert: Tree trimming preemption “Steube files bill to abolish city and county tree protections”

Photo: Herald Tribune

The Bills in Senate and House:

“City and county rules protecting trees are the next battleground in the rolling fight between local governments and the Florida Legislature over local regulations viewed by critics as too onerous.

The Legislature has tried to prevent cities and counties from adopting new regulations governing everything from lawn fertilizer to short-term vacation rentals in recent years. Now state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is taking aim at tree ordinances, saying rules limiting the trimming and removal of trees infringe on property rights.

Steube’s bill would prohibit local governments from regulating the ‘trimming, removal, or harvesting of tree and timber on private property.’ That would nullify dozens of tree ordinances across the state. Only the state Legislature would be able to regulate trees.

‘I think you’ve seen a lot of instances where local governments are, in my opinion, going way above and beyond what they should be doing,’ said Steube, who also has been behind the push to limit local regulations of short-term vacation rentals.

The tree bill, SB 574, was inspired by complaints Steube heard from property owners and the building industry, along with his own personal experience.

Steube built a three-car garage with a mother-in-law suite on his 5.3-acre property east of Interstate 75 in unincorporated Sarasota County. The project, completed in May 2014, required clearing roughly an acre of land and cutting down a number of trees.

Steube was surprised to learn he needed a permit to cut down the trees.

‘The guy came out and said you have to get a tree permit,’ Steube said. ‘I’m like a tree what? You’ve got to be kidding me right?’

There was no difficulty in obtaining the permit, but Steube still found the county’s tree ordinance to be onerous. He was particularly annoyed that he had to pay thousands of dollars to haul the debris away because the county would not allow it be buried onsite. His bill allows onsite burial of such debris on properties that are 2.5 acres or larger.

After his garage project, Steube said he met with every member of the county commission – all of them Republicans – to complain about the ordinance. They listened sympathetically but did not take action, he said.

Steube has heard similar complaints about tree ordinances from other property owners in recent years and has been approached by people in the development community about tree regulations. One of them was Jon Mast, CEO of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association.

The city of Sarasota’s tree ordinance, revised last year, has been a particular concern for Mast’s group.

‘I think it’s a good bill,’ Mast said of Steube’s legislation. ‘I know cities and counties are going to cry ‘home rule’ but there is a lot of overreach, especially in the city of Sarasota, about what you can or cannot do with your own trees on your own property.’

The city’s tree ordinance requires property owners to get a permit when removing or relocating most trees beyond a certain size. Property owners must meet certain criteria to cut down a tree. Some of the accepted reasons for removing a tree: It is dead, it is threatening a structure, it is preventing development of the property and there are no reasonable alternatives. Larger ‘grand’ trees have more protection. In many cases, when a tree is removed for development purposes there also is a requirement that mandates new trees to be planted or the property owner pay into a ‘replacement tree fund.’

Facing backlash from development interests, the city of Sarasota is taking a fresh look at the tree ordinance. A new committee has been created to revisit the regulations.

City Commissioner Hagen Brody said he wants an ordinance that ‘strikes a more appropriate balance that protects a homeowner’s property rights and also preserves our community’s unique natural environment.’

But the prospect of the Legislature nullifying local tree regulations and preempting tree oversight to the state is likely to provoke a strong response from local government leaders and environmental groups.

‘This is not a one-size-fits-all issue,’ said City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch, who opposes Steube’s bill. ‘You have to get down to the granular little detail. It’s different in every community, every neighborhood, even every street and site.’

Ahearn-Koch has spent years working on the city’s tree rules. She said the ongoing debate over the regulations is a good thing.

‘It shows we’re passionate about it,’ she said. ‘If anything, it illustrates why it’s important these things be handled on the local level.’

The Florida Association of Counties and the Florida League of Cities are gearing up to try to defeat the legislation.

After sending out an alert about Steube’s bill to her membership, Craigin Mosteller with the Florida Association of Counties said she heard a strong response from county leaders about the benefits of tree protection, including preventing flooding on adjacent properties, protecting wildlife and making neighborhoods more attractive… ”

–Zac Anderson, Herald Tribune

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Florida League of Cities: Oppose state’s tree control preemption


“SB 574 (Steube) and HB 521 (Edwards) preempt to the state the trimming, removal or harvesting of trees and timber on private property, and prohibit local governments from restricting these activities on private property. The bills also prohibit local governments from imposing mitigation requirements (including fees or tree planting) for the removal or harvesting of trees. Lastly, the bills prohibit a local government from prohibiting the burial of trees or vegetative debris on properties larger than 2.5 acres.”

–Florida League of Cities, Inc.

Visit Florida League of Cities for the Legislative Bulletin

Tampa: “…Tracking how much money their trees are earning them every year”

Tampa: “…Tracking how much money their trees are earning them every year”

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

“Your parents were wrong: money does grow on trees.
Cities routinely rake up tens of millions of dollars from their urban forests annually in ways that are not always obvious.
Leafy canopies lower summer air conditioning bills, but more shade also means less blade to maintain thousands of acres of grass.

Health-wise, trees contribute to lower asthma rates and birth defects by removing air pollutants.
Across the nation, city foresters should celebrate trees as economic drivers and get past the false dichotomy of economy versus environment.

Portland, New York City, Milwaukee and Atlanta are among the cities that have quantified the payoff from pines and palms, olives and oaks…

What’s a tree worth?
Tampa, Florida demonstrated that kind of thinking in moving its leading tree official, Kathy Beck, from the Parks and Recreation Department onto its chief planning team. Tampa approaches trees as part of a green public works system, the living equivalent of roads and bridges. It’s a case of what Beck calls ‘green meets gray.’

Part of how Tampa gets it right on trees is that planners can shield themselves from partisanship, protest and profit motives by relying on science to decide on what, where and how many trees to plant.

To get the biggest bang for tree planting and maintenance bucks, Tampa turns to…University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences urban forester Rob Northrop, for information on which trees provide the greatest shade, which can be planted closest to sidewalks and parking lots without root growth buckling pavement and which species best withstand floods in a city already impacted by sea level rise. University of Florida scientists Michael Andreu, Andrew Koeser and Paul Monaghan and the USDA Forest Service’s Geoff Donovan have also provided valuable expertise.

Northrop and other natural resource scientists see intrinsic value in trees. But he recognizes the tremendous economic pressures communities are under, so he and economists collaborate to get at the straight-dollar costs and benefits.
The most recent study of Tampa’s trees estimated that they save the city nearly US$35 million a year in reduced costs for public health, stormwater management, energy savings, prevention of soil erosion and other services.

Drilling down even further, the University of South Florida has begun mapping individual trees. So planners know, for example, that the live oak on the 4200 block of Willow Drive has a 38-inch diameter and a $453 annual payoff…”

–Jack Payne, Business Insider

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