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Tree group goes out on a limb

Andy Ouriel • Mar 9, 2014 at 11:27 AM

Members of the Sandusky tree commission recently shed light on a local forestry fiasco.

A presentation at a city commission meeting focused on the many dead and diseased trees in Sandusky, as well as the fact there’s currently not enough staff or resources to address the issue.

It has resulted in a backlog of more than 300 trees requiring attention.

To help solve this problem, the tree commission’s members are working to implant solutions in city commissioners’ heads.

Planting ideas

At a recent public meeting, tree commission members:

•Clued people in on what the board does. The volunteer organization studies, plans, advises, reports and recommends tree-related action to the city commission.

•Emphasized the importance of urban trees. Trees reduce energy use, improve air quality and improve community livability.

•Stressed the lack of funding. Tree management falls under horticultural services, which also oversees greenhouse, mowing and other forestry operations. The department’s budget decreased 6 percent, from $841,500 spent in 2013 to $787,000 budgeted for 2014. There is only one certified arborist to address trees.

•Presented other tree issues. Trees planted in wrong spots has uprooted sidewalks, crowded boulevards and threatened public safety with branches dangling closely to power lines.

•Spoke about the committee’s desire to catalog all trees, such as types and locations, in Sandusky.

“The management of trees within the city limits has been an increasing challenge for the city,” said Breann Hohman, a tree commission member and the watershed coordinator for the Erie Soil and Water Conservation District.

Among the most notable ideas: Let citizens maintain trees on boulevards near their property.

While boulevards — or tree lawns, as they’re better known — are considered city property, homeowners and property owners are responsible for maintaining the trees on that land. Even if a tree falls and causes damage, property owners are technically liable.    

But residents can’t do much to a dead or dying tree without first obtaining special permission from the city. It’s a tedious process, and it often leads nowhere.

The tree commission’s proposal “would allow residents to address issues with boulevard trees, such as dead limbs or tree removal, by contracting approved services providers to perform the work,” Hohman said. “We hope, by doing this, we can engage our community members in proper management of the street trees, which is an investment in their own property and the city”

One person welcoming the proposal: Pearl Street resident Gary McKitrick.

For about a decade, a pair of rotting maple trees across the street have haunted McKitrick. City crews occasionally make minor fixes, such as trimming off branches, but the problem persists.

McKitrick said he’d appreciate an extra measure to empower residents, if only to rid the city of troublesome trees before they come crashing down.

“It’s very important someone takes care of these trees soon,” said McKitrick, who has written letters to city officials over the years about this problem.

Workers in Sandusky’s law department are examining the proposal. It’s unknown when, or even if, city commissioners would take any action.

Sandusky ex officio mayor Dennis Murray Jr., an attorney by trade, supported the tree commission’s proposal.

“We need to make those changes so that we don’t have trees falling down on houses and cars, potentially hurting people,” Murray said. “We are behind on that, and we need to make changes”

Murray said city officials must improve the area’s tree stock if they want to enhance the quality of life in Sandusky.

“The importance of an urban forest is fourfold,” Murray said. “Trees make for a much more walkable city; they increase property values; they’ve demonstrated they can make areas safer by getting drivers to slow down; and they make for healthier and attractive cities”

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