WAITSBURG – Trees – what to do with them, and who is responsible for making those decisions – were a hotly debated and recurring topic at Waitsburg City Council meetings throughout 2016.
The city is now accepting applications for two citizens to sit on the City of Waitsburg's tree committee.
The tree committee will be an advisory committee to the council and will include five members, including two city council representatives, the city public works director, and two citizens appointed by the council. Applications and/or letters of interest must be received at City Hall by 4 p.m. on March 10. Official appointment by the city will take place Wed., March 15.
In years past, the city had an active tree committee, but the street committee eventually assumed those duties. However, city ordinances failed to reflect the change, causing some confusion and re-evaluation.
In one incident last year, the city was threatened with legal action if the removal of five large trees on West 6th street was not halted. The trees were slated for removal because the roots were causing heaving to the sidewalk that was to be replaced through the city's sidewalk repair and replacement program.
Waitsburg attorney Mike Hubbard informed the city that, according to Waitsburg's Municipal Code, "no person other than the (Waitsburg Tree) Committee or persons authorized by it may cut, trim, prune, spray, plant, move, remove or replace any tree located on public property or which encroaches on public property." Removal of the trees was temporarily put on hold.
City Manager Randy Hinchliffe told the council that the tree committee became the street committee when the development code was revamped several years ago. That committee was made up of council members Karl Newell and KC Kuykendall, and former Mayor Walt Gobel.
The council voted unanimously to move forward with removal of the trees after weighing community input and reviewing a report from an arborist stating that all five trees were sickly and should be removed.
A decision on what to do about the city's missing tree committee was not so quickly resolved. The topic came before the council multiple times as the city worked throughout 2016 to review and update its municipal codes.
Hinchliffe expressed concern that the city's public works department should not be forced to gather a committee and gain permission each time they had to deal with broken branches or dying trees. He suggested doing away with the committee.
Community member Allison Bond, told the council she would like to see Waitsburg pursue designation as a Tree City USA through the Arbor Day Foundation. She said the program would make the city eligible for support such as educational tools and grants. Having a community tree ordinance is one of the requirements to be designated as a Tree City USA. She also said tree committee members would have more time for research than council members who already have a full plate.
Council member Kate Hockersmith also spoke in favor of retaining the committee as an aid to the council.
"I see the committee pursing things like Tree City USA designation and possibly developing a map of the oldest trees in town as the types of projects a tree committee could initiate and oversee," Hockersmith told The Times.
In the end, the council agreed to create a new committee that will function in an advisory-only capacity, reporting to the council. The tree committee will provide input, but will not prevent the city from addressing situations that are a safety hazard, such as removal of trees or branches that are damaged during a storm.
Some of the duties of the committee will include: working with the city to formulate a tree maintenance program, supplying information on tree selection, planting, and maintenance, determining which species are best-suited for various locations, establishing a program of tree inspection, offering input on potentially hazardous trees, and developing a tree inventory with an emphasis of old-growth trees.
Interested parties should contact Hinchliffe at Waitsburg City Hall or call (509) 337-6371. Applications/letters of interest are due by 4 p.m. on March 10, and the council will make their selections on Wed., March 15.