TAMPA (WFLA) – The City of Tampa has issued it’s largest fine ever for cutting down trees.
The city fined the Life O’Reilly mobile home park and Miller and Sons, the company that cut down trees at the mobile home park on Gandy Boulevard, a combined fine of $840,000 for cutting down grand oaks in August.
“This fine, what it says is, you better think before you crank up that chain saw. You could use your license,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor who indicated she hopes the large fine will send a message, ” It can’t be looked upon as, we’ll just cut down the trees and consider that the cost of doing business. We have a very robust tree canopy, one of the best in the world and we should embrace that.”
Residents in South Tampa were outraged when the trees were cut down over a four day period in August after a certified arborist for Miller and Sons declared the trees to be diseased.
“Look at the biggest tree in the whole area is, appears to me to be perfectly healthy,” said Neal Sivyer who lives near the property.
Sivyer and others believe the city should have stepped in before the damage was done.
“They basically thumbed their nose at the city and all of the rules,” said Sivyer.
The tree cutting came a short time after a new state law went into effect preventing cities from passing local ordinances to control tree cutting in certain circumstances. The city contends the property is zoned as commercial and the trees should not have been cut.
Jake Cremer, an attorney representing the property owner contends they were well within their rights to take down the trees.
“The City of Tampa is taking unauthorized action because State law plainly preempts and prohibits the City from requiring a permit, fee or mitigation for the removal of the trees on residential property. The State tree statute applies to all residential property. People live on the property today, and have been living there for over 40 years, as allowed by the City Code. An arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture confirmed that the trees presented a danger to persons or property. The property owner was following the law of the land to remove these dangerous trees,” said Cremer.
Tampa City Councilman Bill Carlson says the law should be changed.
“Really, it could result in the destruction of our tree canopy in Tampa which makes us special among cities nationally and internationally,” said Carlson who believes the state legislature may revisit the law during it’s next session.
“What I would encourage people to do, is if you really care about trees, please call your legislators, call the state and try to get them to modify this law,” said Carlson.