Fernandina Beach Commissioners make plea for tree protections

fernandina beach tree spanish moss
Vice Mayor Len Kreger doesn’t know whether the city will get support from the Legislature on the proposals.

Fernandina Beach City Commissioners are looking to the Legislature to repeal a law seen as a giveaway to developers and a direct attack on the Florida environment.

Vice Mayor Len Kreger pointed out, at the beginning of a discussion with Commissioners, that the resolution on legislative requests didn’t include one to repeal Florida Statute 163.045 — which inhibits tree protections — nor another law that specifically bans Fernandina Beach from donating property. He said Commissioners agreed to these requests at earlier workshops.

“We spent three workshops dealing with that,” Kreger said at the Commission’s meeting this week. “Those are the guys who come in and butcher the trees.”

He doesn’t know whether the city will get support from the Legislature on the proposals, “but if we’re not asking for it with other people, there’s just no way we’re going to get any changes to the tree law.”

The law, fewer than five years old, is a municipal preemption effort that bars cities from passing and enforcing certain tree protection ordinances.

According to the law, “A local government may not require a notice, application, approval, permit, fee, or mitigation for the pruning, trimming, or removal of a tree on a residential property if the property owner possesses documentation from an arborist certified by the ISA or a Florida licensed landscape architect that the tree poses an unacceptable risk to persons or property. 

“A tree poses an unacceptable risk if removal is the only means of practically mitigating its risk below moderate, as determined by the tree risk assessment procedures outlined in Best Management Practices — Tree Risk Assessment, Second Edition (2017).”

Further, “A local government may not require a property owner to replant a tree that was pruned, trimmed, or removed in accordance with this section.”

The Nassau County group of the Sierra Club noted the law prevents municipalities from getting involved when the law’s abused, which the group believes is occurring. 

“Since there is no state licensing of arborists, filing an ethical complaint against one who has falsely documented that a healthy tree is ‘dangerous’ takes close to two years to be reviewed,” the group said in a statement following the Commission meeting.

Commissioner Chip Ross called the repeal of both laws noble goals.

“I agree with you completely on the tree ordinance,” Ross said. “But I am unwilling and unable to spend time on something I know is doomed to failure. That’s the state Legislature — there is no appetite within our … legislative group to pursue that.

“We have nobody else in the state who seems to be pursuing that. The League of Cities is not going to support that, and I do not think we need to be spending time and effort on that.”

The vote went 4-1, with Ross voting “no.” Kreger argued the Commission loses nothing and risks little by asking.

Commissioners also agreed to ask the Legislature for funding on three different priorities. The first priority is $1 million for a citywide vulnerability assessment on flooding and shoreline stabilization for the 60-block historic district. 

They’re also looking for $1 million to go toward design, construction and/or reconstruction of City Hall, and $500,000 for beach walkovers to replace walkthroughs threatened by sea-level rise and other flooding issues.

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe

One comment

  • Jacqui Tomaszewski

    December 8, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    I hope ya’ll can save our trees AND our wetlands. Thank you!

Comments are closed.


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