Supporters Turn Out To Talk Up Tree-preservation Bill

Council Rebuffs Proposal To Exempt Public Works From Provisions

June 16, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

You might say many of the people who testified Tuesday in favor of aproposed tree preservation bill thought along the same lines as thischildren's storybook character:

"I'm the Lorax who speaks for thetrees which you seem to be chopping as fast as you please. But I'm also in charge of the Brown Bar-ba-loots who played in the shade in their Bar-ba-loot suits and happily lived, eating Truffula Fruits. NOW . . . thanks to your hacking my trees to the ground, there's not enough Truffula Fruit to go 'round. And my poor Bar-ba-loots are all getting the crummies because they have gas, and no food, in their tummies!"

That passage from the Dr. Seuss' book, "The Lorax," was read by Dennis Averill of Abingdon, who was among 30 people who testified in favor of the tree bill.

When Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson polled the room to see who was in favor of the bill, most of the 150 inattendance raised their hands.

When Wilson asked those who would favor an amended version of the tree bill, about 10 homebuilders, contractors and developers raised their hands.

And when Wilson asked who opposed any version of the bill, only Bel Air lawyer Frank Hertsch of Venable, Baetjer and Howard raised his hand.

"We've lost moretrees to state and county roads than many developers are going to cut down," Hertsch said in his testimony. "It's unfair to lay every environmental problem on the homebuilders and contractors. And I believethis bill is contrary to public policy. We have a long-standing policy of maintaining development within an envelope, and I believe this would cause an additional area outside the envelope to be developed."

After listening to the testimony, the council voted to adopt morethan 20 amendments to the bill that made the measure more strict than a state bill passed this year by the General Assembly. The council is expected to vote on a final bill as early as this Tuesday. If passed, it would take effect this December, a year earlier than the state's law.

Representatives of the Maryland and Harford County Home Builders associations said at the hearing that they would support the tree bill if several amendments they proposed were added to the bill.

The bill's key sponsor, Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, said she agreed to several of those proposals, but not all. "There were only acouple of points on which we didn't agree, which is quite incredible."

Among the points the homebuilders, the council and county administrators agreed on was an amendment raising the fees charged to developers who choose not to plant trees on or off of development sites.

The amendment raised the fee in lieu of planting to 40 cents a tree, up from the 15 cents a tree first proposed.

The tree bill, as amended, also would:

* Require developers to retain 30 percent of the existing trees of a certain diameter in high-density developments.Most development in Harford County is done in designated high-density areas. The state bill did not address this issue.

* Set a minimum amount of forest that must be on a site, so that on lots with fewertrees, developers would have to plant trees to reach the minimum.

* Require developers to post bonds so that if the newly planted trees die, they could be replaced.

A key point of debate at the publichearing Tuesday concerned the issue of whether county government departments should be exempt from the law.

County Executive Eileen M.Rehrmann proposed an amendment, defeated by a 5-2 council vote, thatwould have exempted the Department of Public Works from tree-planting requirements because other utilities are exempted.

Averill turned again to "The Lorax" to find the words to express his own opinion on that issue.

"You're in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs. Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care. Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air. Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all of hisfriends may come back."

"If trees are worth saving, the Department of Public Works should be covered by this bill," Averill added.

Pierno contended there was no legal way to exempt the county from therequirement because Harford's tree bill must comply with the state law, which requires county governments to plant trees to replace thosecut down.

Council members Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, and Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, voted to exempt the Public Works, saying they were willing to take the chance the state might rule the county law illegal.

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