NEWBURYPORT — The city's trees are winning some attention from local officials who are working on a new ordinance in part to protect "public" trees that might be removed or altered without municipal oversight.
A revised ordinance is currently before the City Council's Planning and Development Committee.
"We want an ordinance that makes it clear that if people want to do work on a public tree, there has to be an appropriate plan with approval from the tree warden," City Planning Director Andrew Port said.
"Right now, there isn't enough clarity."
A "public tree" is not necessarily one found on municipal property.
A tree near a curb, sidewalk or thoroughfare can be planted on private property, but actually be under the aegis of the city.
Municipal officials say that a key intent of the proposed ordinance is to make it clear to professional tree surgeons such as those employed by National Grid that city supervision is required before trees are removed.
At a recent public hearing of the Planning and Development Committee, several residents said that trees on or near their properties were summarily removed by crews working in their neighborhoods.
An ordinance that requires approval of the tree warden would at least enable a discussion before a mature tree is removed.
City officials say the following goals will be achieved through the adoption of a new tree ordinance:
Greater clarity in the powers and duties of the tree warden and a formalized Tree Commission.
A clear process by which developers, utility companies and property owners may obtain a permit from the tree warden for the trimming, pruning, removal and/or replacement of public trees throughout the city.
Clarity regarding the requirements for a public hearing whenever a public tree is proposed to be cut down or removed.
Requirements for mitigation and tree replacement when a developer or other applicant wishes to remove a public tree.
Establishment of enforceable fines for anyone trimming, pruning, removing or otherwise damaging public trees without express permission of the tree warden.
Requirements for the removal of tree stumps within six months following any tree removal.
One aspect of mitigation that has been discussed is the requirement that if a tree 10 inches in diameter is removed, then perhaps four trees of about 2.5 inches in diameter would be planted to "mitigate" the loss of the mature tree.
Members of the Planning and Development Committee are continuing to study the proposed ordinance. If reported out of committee, it would come before the full City Council for approval.