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Tree-pointers: Madison eyes penalties for construction-related arbor damage

By Paul Snyder

The loss of five trees on Spaight Street that were damaged during a construction project prompted a Madison alderwoman to propose an ordinance fining contractors for arbor damage.

Alderwoman Marsha Rummel said she could not remember the contractor that handled the 2009 Spaight Street reconstruction, but was upset the city had no recourse after the project damaged five trees to the point of needing replacement.

“They apologized,” she said. “But having five trees unnecessarily damaged and lost was a shame, so we started talking with engineering and parks (departments) about changes.”

According to city documents, Madison last year contracted with Sauk City-based S & L Underground and Trucking Inc. for the project. S & L representatives were unavailable for comment.

But a resolution making its way to the Common Council would set fines for contractors that intentionally or negligently damage trees to the point of needing replacement.

The fines start at $250 and can increase based on the size of the trees.

The city’s average tree diameter is about 15 inches, said Eric Knepp, a Madison parks administrative services representative. If a contractor were to damage a tree of that size, the contractor would face a $2,110 penalty, under the resolution.

The city’s Board of Park Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved the resolution.

Ron Henshue, manager of the Madison office of Rawson Contractors Inc., said his firm is about to begin work on a one-block reconstruction of West Gilman Street. He said he does not know how many trees could be affected by the project, but city forestry workers have designated which trees the company needs to work around.

He said the company did not figure potential fines into its bid.

“There were not contingencies,” he said. “As long as staff works with us and there’s a reasonable job of inspecting trees, I don’t think it’s a big concern.

“We’re seeing projects with bid specifications about trees now. If a contractor is blatantly not taking care of the environment, there should be a penalty.”

The Board of Park Commissioners will request about $220,000 for new trees in the city’s 2011 budget, said Bill Barker, board president.

Barker said an ordinance fining contractors for arbor damage is an important step for the city.

“We have to tighten up our protection, because we spend a lot of money to put these things in,” he said.

“Hopefully, contractors will get the message, and the message is just: Take care of the damn trees. If it figures into their bids, so be it.”

One comment

  1. Todd Farnsworthy

    Typical private construction projects include tree damage penalties if existing trees to remain are damaged or destroyed. The fine is usually $150 per DBH and is usually called out in the tree protection spec. For heritage or legacy trees (i.e. with historical or cultural importance) the fine can be much higher, up to $500 per DBH. It’s rare that a project’s scope of work is such that trees can’t be protected, rather there is a cost & sequencing issue that most contractors aren’t interested in following. It is surprising that the City of Madison didn’t already have a tree damage clause in their standard project requirements.

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