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Sunday, September 5, 2010

City tree falls across Field Avenue. Negligence?

Just fell over.

After Mother Nature gave Plainfield's 47th Annual Outdoor Festival of Art a compliment with a beautiful day, she gave us the back of her hand on Field Avenue, where a towering maple toppled in the light breeze late Saturday afternoon.

Driving by this tree many times a week, it had never seemed worthy of special attention, but as you can see, it was rotten to the core (hmmm, is there a metaphor in there someplace?).

Chatting up the officer who had been dispatched to ward off erstwhile drivers, I explained the Robinson-Briggs administration has in the past opposed a tree condition census by the Shade Tree Commission, presumably because knowing the condition of dead and dying 'city' trees would expose the City to liability in case one fell on a car or person.

Wouldn't an up-to-date census with an action plan that could be proved was being implemented lessen the possibility of liability issues? As it stands (or, rather, falls) now, one has to wonder if the City isn't liable for 'negligence'.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Michael Townley said...

I was at one time a department director in a nearby city. Among my responsibilities was all of public works, including maintenance and replacement of street trees.

We commissioned a survey for all trees on city-owned properties as well as in the rights-of-way. The survey information became a database that we used to prioritize tree removals, trimming and replacements. It also helped us identify gaps in the street tree canopy that we filled with regularly-scheduled plantings.

Having commissioned the survey, the city Council was then obligated to budget sufficient funds to remove those trees judged dangerous and trim those deemed hazardous. Knowing trees were in danger of falling (like that hollowed-out tree on Field Avenue), we were then responsible for taking action to eliminate the hazards.

If Plainfield were to survey its street trees without sufficient funds in budget to address the problems, the city would be exposed to greater liability than if no survey were done at all.

It is similar to liability for pot hole damage - if someone reports a pot hole to the City and it is not repaired in a reasonable time, the City would be liable for future damage caused by that pot hole.

If the City doesn't survey its trees, it won't know the locations of hazards, making it less liable for future damage. The City's approach to its existing street trees may be akin to the old saying "What you don't know can't hurt you." Of course, it may hurt someone else.

Anonymous said...

thats a dead tree you should see them all on woodland ave by the bend towards randolpd rd

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the city being responsible for damages. Many years ago I had a huge limb fall on a car in front of the house and crush the roof of the car. When I inquired at city hall, they said that they had insurance to cover this. What they didn't tell me was that the accident report had to be filed in so many days to be covered. Missed the deadline by a couple of days and was told "S.O.L.". by the insurance co.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Mayor should take out some advertising space on WBLS requesting citizen's report trees that appear dangerous.

Rob said...

Plainfield never has enough money to take care of $25,000 issues...but always seems to be waiting in line to hand over $200,000 to handle their neglect of the $25,000 issue...Penny Wise and Pound Foolish. What Michael Townley wrote is a sound economical approach to handling a long term issue in Plainfield. Again though, he pointed out how things were down in Never Never Land..the mystical fantasy land called the real world.

Blackdog said...

Anon 6:46 beware of the Mayor, she , (as do some council members), have more up their sleeves than their arms!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't the city just let the people who own the trees take care of them? They would do a better job than the city. Let the residents get a discount from the city tree removal company.

It is a shame that the administration does not care enough about this city to make sure it's resources are properly taken care of.

Gregory Palermo said...

Michael Townley's extrapolation from potholes to hazardous trees ("What you don't know can't hurt you") does not take into account the New Jersey Shade Tree and Community Forestry Assistance Act of 1996 (P.L.1996, c.135). That statute provides liability protection for municipalities that deal with hazardous trees according to a management plan modeled on state guidelines and acceptable to the State Forester. To meet those guidelines, the municipality must prioritize its hazardous trees and deal with them in order, the most hazardous first. Prioritization takes into account not only tree condition, but also location. For example, a dead tree overhanging a sidewalk near a school is a more serious threat than a dead tree on a low-traffic street. The tree near the school would find itself near the top of any reasonably constructed priority list. To avoid taking note of which trees are hazards because that knowledge exposes us to greater risk of lawsuits is to subvert the intent of the 1996 law, the language of which makes very clear that its purpose is to help communities deal with liability problems ("properly planned and implemented local community forestry programs can provide the necessary basis for local governments to reduce or eliminate liability associated with local tree care programs").
Prioritization of tree hazards is good public policy because it permits the City to remove the most serious threats to public safety and because it complies with the 1996 statute, thereby providing liability relief. The alternative is to rely on luck to avoid injury when trees or limbs fall in heavily trafficked areas.
Does documentation of hazardous trees require that each tree with a flaw be remedied or removed? No. It's a rare tree that has no flaws. Remedying every hazard would consume the entire municipal budget in most towns. What is required for state approval (and its attendant liability relief) is a reasonable plan of action to remove tree hazards in a prioritized way.
Plainfield needs a tree census and has unsuccessfully applied within the last few years for state grants to carry one out.
Gregory Palermo, Chairman
Plainfield Shade Tree Commission

Anonymous said...

What is the Tree Department's budget in the Public Works ?

OB3 said...

Another tree down on Myrtle Ave close to Green Brook Park. Two cars totaled, power lines down and two peoplenearly killed!