Earlier this year, while construction crews were digging up a sewer line on Spaight Street on the city's near east side, they accidentally caused the deaths of six trees. ("A Tree Falls in Madison," 10/2/09). Some people are still sore about it.
"These were 60-year-old trees. You don't get another 60-year-old tree in your lifetime," says Madison Ald. Marsha Rummel. "There was quite a bit of alarm in the neighborhood."
Rummel is now drafting an ordinance to impose stiff fines for construction crews that damage city trees. Instead of levying a flat fine, Rummel wants the fine to be based on the worth of the tree, to deter construction crews from being careless.
"We need to protect our urban canopy because it helps keep us warm and cool," Rummel says. "And it adds value to our lives. Sometimes when we lose these majestic trees, we're not replanting majestic species."
Putting a value on individual trees isn't easy, says Kevin Briski, city parks superintendent. "People can extrapolate a number of values from trees," he notes. "There's certainly an emotional value and an ecological value to trees. Placing a concrete value on that is somewhat difficult."
Briski doesn't think there's been a rash of developers damaging trees on street terraces, but "anytime it happens...it's a problem." He says the number of trees on the city's streets is well over 100,000, though finding an exact number is "like guessing how many jellybeans" are in a jar.
The city probably has more than a million trees, overall.
Briski says the ordinance being drafted will lay out specific guidelines for how contractors should work around trees. "What we're really wanting to do is make sure, number one, that we have job specifications in the contracts about how they should proceed around trees."
Rummel wants the ordinance to impose lighter fines to residents who accidentally damage a tree. But, she says, "I haven't figured out the balance between those people and a contractor who has insurance."