Amelia Island residents make push for tree protections, repeal of preemption law

fernandina beach tree spanish moss
'Our trees are an important part of our sense of place.'

Conservative state Legislatures like to pass municipal preemption laws to legally handcuff progressive cities, but environmental concerns often cross party lines. The residents of the heavily Republican vacation spot of Amelia Island are asking their new legislative delegation to repeal a law that prevents protection of the island’s noteworthy tree canopy.

The law specifies, “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.”

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 requirement to secure the work of an arborist is rife with conflicts of interest, Lynn Pannone of the Amelia Tree Conservancy told Rep. Dean Black and Sen. Clay Yarborough this week.

“Most, but not all, arborists are employed by a company that removes trees,” Pannone said.

“So the arborist, for the sake of his own job, would write the letter (condemning the tree), thus getting the business for his employer. Do you think a person who works for a company that removes trees is going to turn away business? Not if they want to keep their job.”

Beyond the aesthetics and what the trees mean for Amelia Island tourism, Pannone told the legislators the trees are an important part of the barrier island’s natural protections.

“Our trees are an important part of our sense of place,” Pannone said. “Trees protect us from storm damage. Trees (mitigate) stormwater runoff by retaining water in their leaves and root systems, which prevents flooding. The fewer trees we have, the more expensive infrastructure we need to invest in to deal with flooding.”

The root systems are also important in preventing erosion, she said, something of particular concern for a barrier island.

Tree protection’s been one of the policy concerns for former Fernandina Beach Vice Mayor Len Kreger, who recently termed out of office.

Kreger acknowledged it may not be the easiest path in the Legislature, as repealing a law, once passed, can take some work.

“It’s a terrible preemptive law that causes significant undue environmental damage,” Kreger said. “The county’s also had problems with it — I don’t know if they addressed the issue. It allows people to come in and basically make excuses (to remove trees). Although there were some minor changes last year, it’s still a terrible law.”

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



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