The Block Island Times

To trim trees, or not to trim?

By Stephanie Turaj | Sep 25, 2012
Photo by: Kari Curtis

“It’s a work in progress,” said Conservation Commission Chair Ned Phillips of the tree ordinance draft at the commission’s Sept. 18 meeting.

The Conservation Commission has drafted a 19-page ordinance with intent of better preserving town trees, but members of the community and the Block Island Power Company have questioned the lengthy document, its complexity and the restrictions it would place on tree-cutting especially near power lines.

At the Wednesday meeting, the commission worked with BIPCo and the community, hearing suggestions about the “work in progress,” and a lengthy discussion about trees ensued — including anecdotes about how other communities trim trees.

The original draft was adopted directly from Newport’s. Phillips noted that Newport has a particularly stringent ordinance; Newport is home to many historic and renowned trees. For other examples of tree ordinances, Phillips has recently looked at Charlestown R.I.’s, and is waiting to receive one from Warren, R.I. Once commissioners receive the latter ordinance, they will then work to revise and simplify theirs.

Audience member Bruce Montgomery suggested that in the simplification, the commission could better organize the ordinance, and several audience members called for clarifying an appeal process for any issues that would come up. The ordinance currently explains the duties of the tree warden (the designated official, an unpaid position) and the entire “tree commission” (also the Conservation Commission.) It also states the goals of the tree commission: “regulating the protection, maintenance, removal and planting of trees.”

Two longtime island visitors David and Joan Olson expressed concern that the tree ordinance would restrict the island’s view shed, commenting that trees should be cut down more instead of less in order to provide better views. Phillips said that private property would not be affected, as the ordinance would apply to the following: town property, public parks and right-of-ways.

It is being drafted in response to tree trimming performed in the past by BIPCo that the commission thought harmed the osage orange trees that line Negus Park. On hand at the meeting was BIPCo General Manager David Milner, who said that they will be working closely with Phillips and the commission as BIPCo performs necessary trimming this fall, which will primarily reduce line loss and reduce the risk of serious power outages during storms.

And he added, “we won’t perform any work without notifying homeowners first,” saying that they already received about 10 calls regarding letters enclosed in recent power bills notifying customers of trimming.

Phillips said that improper trimming creates an avenue for weaker growth and diseases, which could actually make the work even more difficult for BIPCo in the future. “We learn from our mistakes,” said Milner. BIPCo is currently in the process of examining other power companies’ methods, including the National Grid.


Town Conservation Officer Matt Moran attended the conservation meeting, after being asked to speak on beach fire permits. Hoping to better ensure proper cleanup and extinguishing of beach fires, the commission would like to see a deposit be made by applicants requesting a beach fire permit, but they were unsure how to do so. Suggestions have been made about applications making a security deposit returned if the fire is clear, paying a permit fee or leaving a copy of their drivers’ license.

Moran explained the current process of how he checks beach fires and how permits are issued, and assured the commission that the “system is working.” Moran had mixed feelings about a permit fee, saying that while the money would be a benefit, the strain on dispatch to collect the money would be a problem.

The Commission briefly discussed the sewer spill that happened Aug. 11, commenting that while this week’s sewer commission meeting (see related story) touched on future prevention plans, members who attended the meeting did not feel that it really explained the reason or consequences of the spill.

“My big gripe [about the spill] is the lack of response time,” said commissioner Fred Leeder.

Commissioner John Hopf reported on a beach access project that had previously been completed on Grace’s Cove beach; the access had been filled with rocks, some donated by Bruce and Peggy Montgomery and some purchased with a $500 donation by the Block Island Residents Association. However, he said some of the rocks had been washed out, and there is a need for larger rocks to fill the area.

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