Village trustee Kelly Myers, who serves as commissioner of the Department of Public Works, is leading the effort. She made it clear that although the ordinance is still in its drafting stage, the village wants residents to have a part in the process. “As a community, we need to come up with a vision,” she said. “When people are open-minded and they sit down and talk about things and put their heads together, they come up with a better solution than if someone was to sit down and do it themselves.”
Myers said there are no plans to extend the ordinance to trees on private property, although the process has provided a chance to reexamine liability for the maintenance of sidewalks by residents, which sometimes crack, buckle or are thrust up by the roots of village tree roots.
How trees are managed now
As it now stands, if any problem should arise concerning a tree, decisions are made on a case-by-case basis by Department of Public Works superintendent Robert Ciarlante or Myers. The most common problem is dead branches, which can cause injury or property damage when they fall. If Ciarlante or Myers feel that a tree poses a safety risk, the tree will likely be taken down, which does not always sit well with homeowners or other residents. Each tree is evaluated on a case by case basis, with a goal of reaching a mutually agreeable solution –– though there is no law to go by.
“So far, they’ve [the Department of Public Works] done an excellent job, but there are occasions where there are some gray areas and it would be helpful to have a set of guidelines to assist the people on the ground in answering those difficult questions,” said Myers.
At present, most of the work to maintain the trees is done in-house by village employees, with Central Hudson making substantial contributions with its routine trimming and pruning of trees near power lines. Myers was quick to praise Central Hudson for its work in this regard. “If they didn’t trim, the village would have to pay for that,” said Myers. “I don’t want to charge anything extra to the people who live here.”
So while the utility has a symbiotic relationship with the village, its frequent requests to remove trees did provide the impetus for the law. Myers feels that the two sides can come to a mutual understanding. “As a community, we need to come up with a vision, and we have to work with Central Hudson; it has to be an open dialogue with them…Trees add to our quality of life, and make our streets beautiful,” said Myers. “We need to make sure that our trees will be taken care of into the future.”
Part of the law will address the work Central Hudson does, which Myers says sometimes amounts to “aggressive trimming.” Plans for trimming, cutting, and tree removal would have to be submitted and approved by the tree commission before work could commence. Myers does not anticipate resistance from Central Hudson in this respect.
“I think they really are in tune with the communities that they serve and I think that there is a willingness on their part to work with us,” she said.
Central Hudson representative John Maserjian confirmed that the power company would be willing to work with village officials, and would try to comply with local laws while performing work necessary to the maintenance of the power lines. He hopes the village solicits input from the company as it drafts the law.
“A tree ordinance could have an impact on our ability to maintain our lines,” said Maserjian. “I wouldn’t want to see an ordinance affect public safety. I think we could bring a lot to the table to both enhance the beauty of the municipality while providing the best service possible.”
Maserjian pointed out that while Central Hudson will likely be bound to follow the tenets of the law in most of the village, it might not apply on land along state routes 9W, 212 and 32. While they may legally be able to bypass local laws along these corridors, Maserjian said that Central Hudson would likely abide anyway.
Looking for a model
In deciding just what form the ordinance should take, Myers is currently poring over the tree ordinances of neighboring communities, particularly Red Hook, and gathering info from the state DEC.
The new law will call for an inventory and assessment of existing trees, as well as laying out a plan to add to the canopy. Guidelines for replacing trees will be included, and the ordinance will seek to clarify who is responsible for each aspect of the care and maintenance of village trees, and consequently, village sidewalks.
She explained that she particularly likes what the village of Red Hook has done in creating its tree ordinance and village green board. If Saugerties follows its lead and becomes an Arbor Day Foundation “Tree City,” it will be eligible for financial assistance with planting and education programs, community education, publicity, and assistance implementing a successful forestry program. Myers would very much like for Saugerties to receive that distinction.
“Red Hook has been a Tree City USA for seven years, and they closely monitored Central Hudson work when upgrades were done there,” said Myers. “They were commended for doing really good work. Central Hudson really respected the culture of that place. I told Central Hudson that we wanted a project like Red Hook.”
To qualify, a municipality must meet four criteria: have a tree ordinance in place, a tree board or department, hold an annual Arbor Day celebration, and set aside at least $2 per capita each year for a community forestry program. Myers believes that a forestry program would be well worth the expense, enhancing the village by ensuring a thriving tree canopy for years to come.
“We have budget for trimming, but we don’t have budget for replacement,” said Myers. “If you take some [trees] down, you should be responsible for putting some back up. At some point you do have to think ahead.”
Red Hook’s Forestry Management Plan lays out the variety of trees to be planted, area and conditions necessary for a planting site, criteria for branch trimming and tree removal, and the communities plan for the future of its trees. The plan also identifies which trees are healthy and which are in need of care, as well as setting a goal for the community to have no more than 10 percent of any single species of tree.
At present, Myers is not interested in governing trees on private property. Residents will continue to be able to use their own judgment regarding private trees. The proposed law will focus only on trees that are located on village property.
“Rhinebeck’s law says that anybody who cuts down a tree anywhere in Rhinebeck has to come before the commission for permission,” said Myers. “I don’t think that would be appropriate in Saugerties, it’s a little controlling. I really think we have to start with what the village has first. We really just have to make sure that we are looking after the trees that belong to the village.”