Lakeside tree removal proves costly

These photos show the tree canopy before and after about 65 shoreline pine trees were limbed to two-thirds of their height. According to the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance, a tree within 100 feet of the high water mark cannot be limbed more than one-third of its height. (Photos courtesy of Portland Water District)

This photo shows the tree canopy after about 65 shoreline pine trees were limbed to two-thirds of their height. According to the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance, a tree within 100 feet of the high water mark cannot be limbed more than one-third of its height. (Photos courtesy of Portland Water District)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

RAYMOND — The Town of Raymond delivered a strong message to companies doing tree removal in the Shoreland Zone.

For the first time ever, the town fined the contractor as well as the property owner for a violation of the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance.

According to the Raymond Code Enforcement Officer Chris Hanson, Marston’s Tree Service, Inc. paid the $15,000 fine in full on June 1.

The property owners, Donald and Victoria “Vickie” Matthews, were fined $10,000, which was also paid to the town earlier this month.

In addition, the Matthews contractually agreed to complete $17,000 worth of landscaping to mitigate the limb-cutting that occurred last summer. According to the consent agreement, at least 80% of the shrubbery and small trees that are planted must remain viable through June 2016.

“I don’t know if the Matthews knew about the shoreland violation or not; but, they hired Marston’s, which has certified licensed arborists who do know the rules,” Hanson said.

According to John Marston, who has owned Marston’s Tree Service since 1998, his company has never been fined before.

He stressed that his employees did not remove any trees on the property. Instead, limbs were removed and the trees left standing.

The over-pruning was a misinterpretation of the Shoreland Zoning rules, he said.

“The guy in charge that day miscommunicated to the crew. He misunderstood the shoreland rules. It was a human error, and that individual no longer works for me,” Marston said.

“I paid the fine. I am taking the brunt for stuff I didn’t do,” he said.

“The trees were over-pruned. We took responsibility for our actions,” Marston said.

Additionally, he said that the company has changed its protocol, and now double-checks with the code enforcement officer in the town where the work is being done.

“I paid the fine. I stand behind my company’s work; and, we have never received a violation before,” Marston said.

According to Hanson, the fine was not intended to bring money into the town’s coffers.

“It is never the town’s goal to do enforcement and fines for any economic gain. It was strictly to deter this behavior in the future. The selectmen wanted to send a message that Shoreland Zoning Ordinances are taken very seriously, and they will back up the code enforcement officer,” Hanson said.

“We will conserve these lakes that are the gems of Raymond,” he said, adding that the town’s boundaries have 65 miles of shoreline including Sebago Lake, Crescent Lake, Panther Pond, Thomas Pond, and Notched Pond.

According to Hanson, the Matthews applied for the appropriate building permit to construct a new two-story home.

The couple also received a tree removal permit, which included in the paperwork a bulleted list of Shoreland Zoning laws, he said. The tree removal permit was for two dead-standing trees on the property; and, a permit is not required to prune trees.

The location of the property is the very tip of the Raymond Cape, and is situated across Big Sebago Lake from Frye Island.

On June 7, 2012, Hanson inspected the building. He saw the tree removal violation when he went around the side of the home.

About 60 to 75 fully-mature white pines and red pines had been pruned to two-thirds of each tree’s total height, he said. As stated in the ordinance, removing limbs is permissible up to one-third of the height of a tree in the Shoreland Zone. The Shoreland Zone is defined as 100 feet from the high water mark.

Additionally, the tree contractor had brought in a wood chipper and chipped the limbs onsite. The layer of wood chips smothered the smaller vegetation growing at the lake’s edge. The ordinance prohibits disturbance of the undergrowth, except to make a footpath to the water.

“This presents a challenge to the town because with this type of violation, you cannot fully abate. You cannot restore it easily,” he said.

“You cannot put the limbs back on the trees. You cannot plant more trees around the healthy pines,” he said.

However, a reasonable restoration plan has been arranged.

“They did create some rain gardens around the house. As part of the mitigation design, they will plant approximately 20 trees that are between 4- and 5-feet tall,” Hanson said.

To replace the groundcover, the design calls for sweet fern, blueberry bushes, northern bayberry, blueberry sod and hay-scented fern.

The excessive pruning, which is a violation of the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance, is an issue not as much for the health of the trees as for the health of the lake.

“Nobody feels that the trees will die. The lack of limbs may allow the wind to blow differently through there. They may have some blow downs. Only time will tell,” Hanson said.

“The reason they want to maintain the canopy is: It helps when it rains so you don’t get a deluge,” he said.

The shrubbery also provided a buffer from storm water and phosphates.

“If everyone clear cuts to the lake, the quality of the lake would be degraded to point of algae blooms,” Hanson said.

The Shoreland Zoning Ordinance is in place because it is a requirement of the state, he said. The Department of Environment Protection (DEP) has a minimum set of standards; and each town adopts provisions that are tailored to the town’s needs, he said.

When the violation was discovered on the Raymond Cape property, Hanson used the assistance of Mike Morse, Shoreland Zoning Coordinator for the DEP in the Portland office.

Morse’s position was created to assist towns in Cumberland Country with enforcement actions, to guide the code enforcement officers.

Mike Morse “advised me to not only write about the violation to landowners, but also to Marston’s because they are licensed arborists and should know the Shoreland Zoning Ordinance,” Hanson said.

Portland Water District (PWD) was also instrumental in this case because employees use a boat to photograph the entire shoreline of Big Sebago Lake. The photos helped establish how much canopy had existed prior to the tree pruning.

Citizens also act as good watch dogs for this kind of activity on local lakes.

“The location (of the property) is very visible from the lake. There is a lot of boat traffic through there. So, there was a lot of public comment — people letting me know of the violation, and wanting to know what the town was going to do about it,” he said.

“There was public concern that people shouldn’t be able to get away with this type of behavior,” Hanson said.

 

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