Eller pushing ‘Tree City USA' distinction

Miami's community development director said he is not a “tree hugger,” but he does embrace the merits of “Tree City, USA” and he is asking city officials to do the same.

Larry Eller is proposing that the city become a “Tree City, USA” participant - a move that proponents of the program would lead to the development of an organized approach to city tree management.

Eller, along with city tree superintendent Kevin Browning, has presented city officials with a proposed an applicable city ordinance that will ramp up the city's existing tree-trimming policy.

“I have been involved in Tree City, USA, for more than 30 years,” Eller said. “In Oklahoma, there are 24 communities involved. The oldest is Bartlesville. The youngest is Ponca City … If the city goes ahead (with participation), we will certainly be in good company.”

The Tree City USA program, sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation in cooperation with the USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, provides direction, technical assistance, public attention, and national recognition for urban and community forestry programs in thousands of towns and cities.

Benefits of being a Tree City, according to the Arbor Day Foundation, include creating a framework for action, education, a positive public image and citizen pride.

“This is not new or revolutionary,” Eller said. “But, it makes a lot of good sense to have some standards.”

Eller and Browning said their proposed ordinance needs “tweaking” to fit Miami.

“I definitely think that we need some kind of ordinance,” Browning said. “Right now, we have ‘policy' and enforcing that policy has always been a major issue.”

Browning is asking the council to consider the ordinance to provide “backbone” for enforcing tree-trimming standards.

The proposed ordinance is one of four requirements of a “Tree City.”

Additionally, the city must create a board of volunteers to monitor the program, spend $2 per capita on a tree program and, lastly, must promote Arbor Day.

The structure of the proposed ordinance, however, drew concern from council members who indicated that it may infringe on property owner rights - mandating what homeowners could and could not do to trees on their property that stand within city easements and determined to be a “street tree.”

The proposed ordinance also sets standards for pruning and planting, mandates removal of diseased trees, prohibits tree-topping and addresses how property owners can fertilize a tree that is within city right of way or easement.

“There is a lot within this ordinance that won't work,” Browning said. “It will have to be tweaked to fit our community. But, I am all for having something solid on paper to say this is the rights we have as a city.”

Importance of tree trimming and the need for the property owner cooperation became apparent last year as the city battled an unprecedented ice storm the crippled the city's utility services for more than a week, according to Browning.

Browning said there are streets throughout town that the trimmers cannot get utility trucks through, Browning said. “And, we don't have the manpower to competently take care of it … you should see this as an opportunity.”

Council members asked city attorney David Anderson to work with Eller and Browning to further develop the ordinance and return to the council at a later date.