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DeKalb looking at new tree ordinances

Published: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Jan. 25, 2013 2:02 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – Even if DeKalb has stronger ordinances protecting the city’s trees and vegetation, they would not have stopped ComEd from clearing the Nature Trail.

“Nothing that we currently have, nor are what we will able to find from comparable communities, is legislation to prevent ComEd from doing what it did,” City Manager Mark Biernacki said. “They have various authorities from their easements, as well as federal regulations, that would trump local ordinances.”

Because ComEd has full authority in its easement, which are areas under and around power lines, the city has limited power to control the utility’s work, Public Works Director T.J. Moore said.

“They can’t really be compelled to replace [trees,]” Moore said. “Now they can choose to replace in some instances.”

In November, several residents protested ComEd’s clearing of trees along the Nature Trail, a 1.3-mile bike path between Sycamore Road and First Street. Many residents described the area as looking like a war zone, and many blamed the DeKalb Park District for appearing to be asleep at the switch.

A number of residents and some aldermen petitioned the city to examine the possibility of a stronger tree ordinance. One suggestion was requiring entities to plant a new tree for every tree they cut down.

Some candidates for local office have talked about exploring a stronger tree ordinance.

Of all the trees in DeKalb, the city regulates 20 to 40 percent of them, Biernacki estimated. The other 60 to 80 percent are owned by other local governments, such as the park district or DeKalb School District 428, or residents.

Biernacki said the ordinance regulating trees in public areas is very effective, noting that the city can order the removal of trees on property if they are considered dangerous.

The policy question before city leaders Monday night is whether they wish to prohibit homeowners from cutting down trees on their own property. Lake Forest and Highland Park have such prohibitions.

Meanwhile, ComEd has pledged to work with the park district and local residents in restoring the vegetation along the Nature Trail. The panel consists of two park board commissioners, park district staff, ComEd representatives and two or three members of the public.

While members of the public are pleased that ComEd is involved, a number of others want ComEd to pay for complete restoration.

ComEd spokesman Paul Callighan said he cannot say for sure yet whether the utility will pay for any part of the restoration. Callighan noted the committee hasn’t met yet and “we don’t know what will be needed.”

“At this stage, all sorts of things are on the table,” Callighan said. “It’s up in the air, but we want to be a part of the planning and implementation part of this process.”

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