Stop Illegal Tree Cutting in West Orange

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Anyone passing through West Orange on Prospect Ave experiences the green canopy of tall trees whose graceful limbs shade the assisted living facility, the Antioch Presbyterian Church, The Shillelagh Club and the homes on both sides of the road. The trees have stood there for generations.

Illegal Tree Damage and Cutting at Shillelagh Club.

It is no wonder that neighbors objected when a tree service cut down four tall trees on Tuesday August 1st, 2017, in the Shillelagh Club parking lot without a permit.

At the Shillelagh Club, someone caused a trench to be dug right through the roots of the large oak trees up the spine of their driveway.   Then the Shillelagh Club claimed the trees were damaged due to the trenching and had to come down. In fact, those trees were fully leafed out and could have withstood the deliberate root cutting. The damage caused to the roots of the trees is in and of itself a violation of the tree ordinance. 

Illegal Tree Cutting at St. Joseph's Church.

During the last week of July and Friday August 4, 2017, at St. Joseph’s Church tree cutters cut thirteen large trees along the perimeter of the parking lot and in front of the graceful old church. One tree was unhealthy, the rest were sturdy and healthy. Although at least two in the front were ash trees, subject to the emerald ash borer and the yellows, they were still leafed out. The tree service workers themselves stated that the trees could live years more. We do not have an acceptable answer as to why this extensive tree cutting was undertaken when the big trees were not a hazard; the majority of them being in the remote areas of the parking lot.

This leads us to question the lack of supervision by our town forester.

In relation to St. Joseph’s Church, the town forester agreed by phone to the claim of the tree service that thirteen trees were diseased. He didn’t inspect them and he didn’t find ways to preserve them. After the trees were cut down, he agreed to issue retroactive permits and no summons. 

He stated he would issue "retroactive" permits to the Shillelagh Club.

It’s the law! Issuing "retroactive" permits and not issuing summonses undermines our belief that our Mayor, his staff and the town forester will uphold our tree protection laws.

What's so important about trees? We cannot think of a living being that is more crucial to our lives than trees. In this time of climate change, trees are our lifeboats.

Cutting major trees changes everything; the storm water protections are removed, flooding is more likely, the habitat is lost and the visual screening for the neighborhood is lost, for fifty years.

Trees are our reciprocal lungs. They absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. They grace us with shade, solace and beauty.  More prosaically, they increase our property values by 20%.

What people are surprised to hear is that trees live in communities just as we do, their roots entwined, sharing food and information, often aiding their sick brethren, just as we do.

The tree ordinance is darn good, but, it is hampered by some loopholes and inconsistent enforcement.

The spirit of the ordinance is clear, it exists “to prevent indiscriminate, uncontrolled and excessive removal and cutting of trees,”

The strength of the ordinance is exemplified by this proscription, “No person shall engage in activities which could cause a tree to die, including but not limited to topping, grade cut or fill, soil compaction within the drip line, chemical contamination, excessive drainage alterations or mechanical damage.” 


You must get a permit to cut more than three trees! “…. Any person desiring to cut down or remove a tree shall file an application for a tree removal permit ….and shall not commence the cutting down or removal of any tree without first having been issued a permit.” 


You don't need a permit to cut a dead or diseased tree but it seems that the use of the descriptors "hazard" or "diseased" as applied to living trees, may be premature or used as a pretext to get rid of a tree. The ordinance describes this as permitted, "Cutting down or removal of a nonviable tree, or a tree that is an immediate hazard to structures or human life or property;"


The Fines!

Cutting a tree or damaging a tree in violation of the ordinance is a criminal act that should result in “the maximum penalties at the time... being a fine not exceeding two thousand ($2,000.00) dollars or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ninety (90) days, or a period of community service not exceeding ninety (90) days, or any or all of those penalties, and each tree removed or damaged in violation of this chapter shall be deemed a separate offense."

This is not a matter of property rights!

Some people subscribe to the belief that you can do anything you want on your property. That is a myth.  What we can build on our land is governed by zoning laws.  How we build is governed by a construction code. These same principles govern how we treat trees, wildlife, air and water. You cannot destroy them!

This is what we want:

From our Mayor Parisi, Business Manager Jack Sayers and the West Orange Town Council:

  1. That both property owners, The Shillelagh Club, St. Joseph’s Church and the tree cutting services involved be fined the maximum fines for damaging and then cutting trees without permits.



  2. The township form a Shade Tree Commission with authority to approve tree removal. No one official should have the power to condemn a tree.



  3. After the extensive cutting of trees at Seton Hall Prep in 2015 and these incidents at the Shillelagh Club and St. Joseph's Church, we request that the Township engage a forester who is passionate about preserving trees, who will slow down the process when needed and will enforce the law. 
 


  4. Change the ordinance so that a permit is required for even one tree to be cut if it is over 10" in diameter.   Determine if a tree is truly an "Immediate hazard" or is it just a convenience to someone to cut it down.

  5. Change the ordinance to allow for neighbors to be notified and offer them the opportunity to provide testimony on behalf of any large tree proposed to be removed, so residents are not taken by surprise and no tree is cut before it's time is up.

  6. The Township police must be instructed to respond to calls about tree cutting and the police must be instructed to issue orders for the tree cutting to immediately stop if there is no permit.  Otherwise, all the illegal tree cutting will take place on weekends when the municipal offices are closed and no enforcement authority is on duty.


Please make PUBLIC COMMENT at the West Orange Town Council meeting at 66 Main Street. Tuesday August 15, 2017 at 6:30 pm. Share your concerns and comments about tree cutting, unequal enforcement of the law, lack of inspections  and any other matters related to preserving trees in our town. The Town Council is eager to hear from you.

Please share your thoughts when you sign the petition.

Look us up on Facebook, West Orange 411 and search trees to find our posts.

Let us know if you wish to join our environmental protection group in town. We are a fun-loving group, for sure!

 

 

 

 

 



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