Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City's Tree Law under Scrutiny State DOT Refuses to Pay Costly Fees

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City's Tree Law under Scrutiny State DOT Refuses to Pay Costly Fees

Article excerpt

Byline: David Bauerlein, Times-Union staff writer

Some City Council members say it's time to take another look at Jacksonville's tree law -- including the fee charged for cutting down trees -- after the state Department of Transportation said last week that it would stop complying with the regulations.

The department's Northeast Florida district cited high cost as the reason it was going to stop its voluntary compliance. City lawyers are researching whether the law is binding on the department, setting the stage for a possible legal battle to compel compliance.

Beyond the legal issues, the state's decision could reopen debate at City Hall about the nitty-gritty regulations in two conflicting pieces of tree protection regulations -- the charter amendment that voters passed last November, and the ordinance the City Council approved in 1999.

The charter amendment established a set of minimum standards, but it didn't repeal the ordinance. In some respects, the ordinance has tougher regulations, and wherever the ordinance is more stringent, those rules apply.

For instance, the ordinance would require the state to pay $122 for each inch of tree it cannot replace by planting new trees. In the case of trees cleared for the new interchange linking Florida 9A, Interstate 295, and Interstate 95, the state would have to pay almost $5.6 million, according to the department.

The charter amendment, which voters OK'd by a 3-1 margin, sets the rate at $85 per inch. If that rate were in effect, the state's cost would have been $3.9 million.

Even at the lesser amount, the state would have still gone through with its decision to stop complying with the city's tree protection law because of the cost, said Aage Schroder, head of the state DOT for Northeast Florida.

The smaller check "would have been easier to swallow," but it still would have diverted too much state money from transportation projects, he said.

City Councilman Lad Daniels said he favors changing the city's ordinance so it has the same rate as the charter amendment. …

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