Eastern Berks township repeals controversial tree removal rules

Eastern Berks township repeals controversial tree removal rules

A controversial rule requiring Hereford Township property owners to rid their land of trees found by an arborist to be dangerous is gone after supervisors voted 2-1 to repeal the ordinance.

The rules required Hereford residents to take down their properties’ marked trees — designated as dead, diseased or otherwise in danger of falling — or face liens or potential fines of up to $1,000 per day.

At a meeting Tuesday, Supervisors Karla Dexter and Keith Masemore voted in favor of the repeal.

Supervisor John Membrino voted no.

Dexter said at a prior meeting that she believed the rules were discriminatory and could result in harm to residents who can’t afford to foot the bill for tree removal — a cost that residents said ranges as high as tens of thousands of dollars.

“I did it for safety issues because the residents decided not to take down any of their trees at all, until we made a proposal to repeal,” Masemore said of his stance on the rules, in previous comments to the Reading Eagle. “I’m hoping we can now work together, as a family, as a community, to get the trees down for safety’s sake.”

Supervisors voted along the same lines in June to draw up documents for the repeal, which was approved after a public hearing Tuesday.

Attending the hearing was a citizens coalition of about 50, who have often voiced their displeasure about the ordinance at meetings in recent months, since a township-hired arborist began painting trees with a red X.

About 1,700 trees in the township have been marked since the rules were first approved 3-0 by supervisors in August 2021.

Membrino has repeatedly held that the goal of the tree removal ordinance was to deal with ash trees killed and hollowed out by the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle.

He took that stance again Tuesday.

“It’s really a problem with the ash trees … . We have to all agree that all of the ash trees need to come down,” Membrino said. “I mean they’re gonna come down on their own. They’re not coming back to life.”

Membrino also claimed the township’s enforcement of the rules would’ve given residents at least six months to clear the trees, as opposed to the 30 days specified by the ordinance itself.

Officials would’ve even made allowances for those who needed more time, and only required the removal of dead trees in the township right-of-way, Membrino noted.

He went on to read several articles and letters describing accidents involving ash trees, some of which were near the township.

Before the vote, resident Elwood Harper asked other residents what the solution to the ash tree problem would be, without the rules enforcing their removal.

Responding to Harper, as well as to Membrino’s comments, a few residents agreed ash trees are a problem, but said they would like the township to take a greater role in cooperating with landowners to ensure tree removal, instead of mandating it with an ordinance.

“We want to work with you as much as you want to work with us,” said resident John Yanan Jr. “Ash trees, I understand, are a problem. Those that can (take down trees) will. Those that can’t, we’re trying to help.”

Resident Matt Ferdock noted the citizens group has raised money via GoFundMe that will be spent to help residents in need cover the costs of tree removal.

A few also contested Membrino’s claim that township officials would allow more time and leeway in tree removal than what is laid out in ordinance itself.

“If that was your original intent, the ordinance should’ve been written to reflect that,” resident Matt Spangenberg said.

Membrino went on to note that action to start the repeal process in June was taken without consulting the township engineer, solicitor or the arborist, but by the end of his pre-vote comment seemed to concede the decision to repeal was inevitable.

“You’ve said ‘repeal the ordinance and we’ll cut our trees down.’ In six months we should all plan to take a drive through the township and see how things are progressing,” Membrino said. “At that point we’ll know whether the action taken tonight was prudent or a huge mistake.”

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2022-08-04 07:00:00