CHATHAM – The conservation commission has referred the removal of 62 trees from a coastal bank without a permit to the state department of environmental protection for enforcement.
The trees, some of which were 24 inches in diameter, were removed on June 2 from the coastal bank at 107 Taylor's Pond Rd., overlooking Mill Creek. The property is owned by 107 Taylor's Pond Road Real Estate Trust, which lists Byran Donohue of Sewickley, Pa., as trustee.
The action destroyed a mature tree canopy that will take years to grow back, if it grows back at all, said conservation commission members.
“It was just clear cut,” said Conservation Agent Caroline Harper said at the commission's Oct. 23, apparently to create a view of the water. “There was substantial damage to the habitat.”
When Harper first informed commission members of the incident at their July 10 meeting, chairman Janet Williams called the cutting “egregious.” There are some in town, she added, who feel it's easier to clear vegetation to provide a view and ask for forgiveness than to seek a permit.
“To counter that we need to have a message that's clear,” she said.
While the town can impose a fine of $300 a day for a violation of the local wetlands bylaw, DEP can impose larger fines and require expensive restoration. In an Oct. 31 letter to Jim Mahala, chief of the DEP Southeast Regional Office Wetlands and Waterways Program, the commission asks that the department conduct a site visit and outline a path forward to restore the impacted area, which involve both resource areas and buffer zones.
The property owner's attorney, William Riley, said while he understands the commission's concerns, the work did not damage the wetlands, and referring the matter to DEP will delay implementing the replanting plan that his clients commissioned.
“They have all the authority locally that they need to get the work done and to punish them financially,” he said. With DEP's involvement, whatever remains of the current planting season will be lost and the restoration work will not begin until next year.
It was unclear who did the work. When asked, Riley declined to comment.
Harper said she had two “anxious” complaints about the tree cutting in early June. A total of 62 trees, including numerous species ranging in size from two to 24 inches in diameter, were removed from the buffer zones to the coastal bank and salt marsh at the property; most were removed from the coastal bank area. She issued an enforcement order, which the commission ratified at the July 10 meeting. Trees that were removed included cherry, red oak, white oak, pitch pine, cedar and black locust.
The commission ordered the property owners to hire a consultant and put up silt fences to prevent erosion of the bank and develop a restoration plan, which was reviewed by Arborist Craig Schneeberger of Bartlett Tree Experts at the request of the commission. Timothy Kent Landscape Company, hired by the property owner, noted in a report that some of the stumps have already started to resprout.
Even with the restoration plan, the canopy will “not be replaced in any of our lifetimes,” said Williams.
“It's the resource that's the loser here. It's taken a hit and it will not come back. That's the reality,” she said.