West Orange residents had a good day in Municipal Court, this afternoon. OGWO reported and Livestreamed on May 10, 2019 a massive tree cutting incident in the Woodland & Forest Ave area of the Redwood section of West Orange. A homeowner hired a tree company to remove trees, all without a permit. Thanks to an alert neighbor, the police and township forester were called. The incident was streamed on Facebook as the towering Red Oaks were being cut and loaded onto a logging truck. (The owner of the tree company, Nick Whitmore, performed a little taunting dance for the camera, while another employee laughed and filmed the residents who were documenting the destruction.)
Councilwoman McCartney stated at the June 26th Environmental Commission meeting (the night before the court hearing) that the homeowner is a friend of hers, and that her friend wasn’t home at the time. "She only wanted 3 trees removed but the tree company took all of the trees in the front." This is all false. The homeowner was home and claimed she had a permit. The contract for the tree cutting was not for 3 trees, but nearly a dozen. Our Town Forester stated at this same meeting that there are ADDITIONAL trees the owner would still like to remove.
Overall, the township counted 9 trees cut without a permit. (Originally OGWO counted 11 trees, but the Twp Forester stated that one tree was dead, and two shared the same root system.) They issued the homeowner 6 separate summons - one for each tree cut illegally - and “gave” the homeowner the remaining 3 trees as part of their 3 allowable tree cut/365-days. (Although the homeowner still should have filed for a permit, or at least a tree removal report afterwards.) From that total of 9 trees, the Forester reassessed the trees illegally cut to 6. All trees cut were mature, healthy Red Oaks. The township also issued the tree company, Bigfoot Tree Service, 9 summons, as well, but dismissed 3 summons’ for the same reasons as stated above.
The presiding judge was Judge Dawn Donohue. The prosecuting attorney for the township was Richard Trenk, who negotiated with the homeowner and the tree company for fines and actions as a result of the tree May 10th incident. The Township recommended fines for the homeowner of $250 per tree removed illegally. The Township recommended $583 per tree for the tree company. Also recommended were mandates that both parties adhere to, including additional fines if they were found in violation of those mandates set forth by the court.
Judge Donohue listened to the parties’ defenses, and asked each of them questions. The judge made some points for the record, such as in her 2-years as municipal judge in West Orange, she has never received so many letters from residents regarding this hearing. Thirty-two letters total, most all expressing their anger and sadness for the plaintiffs’ actions. She read excerpts from some of the letters, including from a 90-year old neighbor who felt so much sadness as the trees in their neighborhood were being destroyed. The judge stated “What you did really hurt your community, and your neighbors.” She noted the homeowner’s remorse, but stated she should really apologize to her neighbors. The judge pointed out the irony of the property sitting in the Woodland and Forest Avenue area. The judge came down particularly hard on Bigfoot Tree Service, showing little mercy as she spoke to the owner. She read directly from our Township Tree Protection and Preservation Ordinance, and was not impressed with the owner’s excuse why he did not file for permits. (A resident gave a document to the prosecutor showing the company website’s statement about checking for proper permitting.) The judge confirmed for the record that the homeowner paid $3,500 for all the trees to be removed.
The homeowner and Township agreed to the following:
-$300 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #1
-$300 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #2
-$300 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #3
-$300 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #4
-$300 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #5
-$300 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #6
-Homeowner may remove 1 additional tree to complete their new fence
-Homeowner may not cut any additional trees for 2-years
-Homeowner must plant 6 new Maple or Oak trees, measuring 2” dbh in front yard by October 15, 2019
-The new trees must survive 2-years
-If homeowner violates the tree ordinance again within the next 5-years, they will be fined $1,500 on top of the fines issued by the Township
Big Foot Tree Service and Township agreed to the following:
-$700 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #1
-$700 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #2
-$700 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #3
-$700 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #4
-$700 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #5
-$700 fine + $33 court fee for Red Oak #6
-If company violates the West Orange Tree ordinance again within the next 5-years, they will be fined $15,000 on top of the fines issued by the Township
Our poor, new trees! In the summer of 2018 our Township hired the lowest bidding contractor to plant 201 trees throughout West Orange, at a cost of $64,000. The Township failed to water the new plantings as agreed to, & the contractor failed to plant the trees properly. The fact that all 201 trees were planted so hastily in the heat of summer, in different areas of the town contributes to poor planning. Please care for trees that are between your property and the street. Contact our Township forester if they need more than what you can offer: Forester@WestOrange.org
West Orange is a unique township.
But West Orange does have a beautiful sign that reads, "Tree City, USA." A sign that has no place in West Orange. Funny how it's the roots of town politicians that run deep, far, and wide, while those of the town's trees are being severed. Join the fight for green and help advocate for those with no voice.
Our Township Forester eludes to the township not having enough money to trim, prune, and save our town's giant residents. Instead, the township is resorting to completely removing these trees. Some may pose a danger because of dead limbs, while others may be lifting sidewalks, growing amongst power lines, or disturbing street curbs. There are many ways to resolve these issues that do not include total destruction of our canopies and historic trees. If the tree is not viable, then by all means it should be removed.
Touring West Orange streets, marking on dozens of trees can be seen. These two trees are on the Township's destruction list. (Which will be made available here on this site ASAP.) The tree on the left is indeed not viable, and should be removed. The tree on the right is healthy, thriving, and adds value to the properties on the street. [Location is across from West Orange High School, on Greenwood Avenue.]
An OGWO member and town resident visits neighborhood trees marked for removal. OGWO knocked on doors, informing residents of the trees marked for removal on their street. Residents should contact the township forester to express their concern, and urge the township to save these trees. Contact John Linson, Forester@WestOrange.org, or call 973-325-4015. We have the budget to cut these trees, we must have the budget to prune and save them!
Perfectly healthy Crabapple Tree on Maple St.