2010-05-09 / Front Page

Democracy in action: Road commission revises tree policy

BY NANCY ELLIOTT
810-452-2601 • nangellotti@mihomepaper.com

MAYFIELD TWP. — Hadley Township residents have beaten a path to the Lapeer County Road Commission with months of activism on behalf of their trees. Wednesday, their efforts paid off as commissioners voted to approve variances on a number of trees previously slated for cutting. The Hadley tree lobby also resulted in policy changes that open the door for residents around the county to have similar requests considered in the future.

“It’s democracy in action,” road commission chair Doug Hodge told Hadley Township residents and officials in the room last week.

The board voted unanimously to accept the recommendations of Assistant Highway Engineer Ryan Doyle, and grant variances that will save 10 trees and a stand of Osage Orange trees on Pratt Road. In addition, Doyle revisited trees on Hadley and Burnside roads, making some allowances that will save several trees there as well.

The commissioners also approved revisions to the tree removal policy. Most significant, they added verbiage to the policy which says, “Variances may be approved at request of the property owner and at the discretion of the Board of Road Commissioners.”

Other policy changes provide for offering earlier notification to property owners who will be affected by tree cutting plans.

The Hadley contingent was appreciative of the decisions the commission made on the tree issues.

“We would like to thank you for working with us to save these trees. Democracy does work,” said Hadley Township trustee Rick Brandt.

About 30 people filled the seats which had been set up in the room for the meeting. The chairs brought smiles to the faces of arriving residents. The ample seating was an obvious olive branch in the wake of a prior meeting with the road commission during which seating was woefully inadequate and became a bone of contention.

"I think I’ve learned a lesson,” said Hodge. He noted, “Very seldom do we get a lot of public input ... We work for you and we need to be reminded of that ... This was a learning experience for me. I appreciate it.”

In supporting the variances, commissioner Joe Suma said, “I’m glad to see engineering was able to work out the majority of it ... I still don’t like to see the trees left because of the high costs .... but I’m willing to work with the situation.”

Suma amplified his remarks later in the meeting, talking about the funding struggles affecting the roads. He noted that he supported tree cutting with the federal funds since it would save problems and expense in the future for which little money is available.

Hadley resident Louis Swift, who first brought tree issues to the commission last November and has contributed to the ongoing dialog, continued to hammer home on the waste of taxpayer dollars relative to the tree cutting projects. He also pointed out, especially in light of his service to the country, “I think I earned the right to keep my property the way I want it.”

With the policy changes and variances settled, the assembly turned their attention to the trees that will be felled as part of the safety improvements being implemented under the High Risk Rural Road projects. Homeowners that notify the road commission that they wish to keep the wood of the trees downed on their property are going to have to be on their toes to defend against people prepared to steal the wood or who think it’s free for the taking.

“There’s going to be people thinking this is free wood,” said Hadley Township Trustee Robert Hartwig.

Deputy Orrie Smith agreed, “With the economy, there’s a lot of people taking wood now.” He noted that it constitutes theft.

Road commission manager Rick Pearson said that the road commission gets calls from people trying to find out where crews are at work cutting trees. He also noted that the wood theft often happens very quickly.

Doyle said that the tree cutting contractor was very understanding about the issues and had agreed to the revisions on the project. They will likely start cutting in mid-May.

John Quail, who has been a key player in the effort to save trees on Pratt Road, on Thursday filed paper work with the Lapeer County Clerk’s office to run for a seat on the Lapeer County Road Commission.

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