City officials consider waterfront view, protectionRestoring the view of Superior’s waterfront near Barker’s Island prompted two city councilors to seek more say in the Public Works Department’s tree-cutting decisions.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Restoring the view of Superior’s waterfront near Barker’s Island prompted two city councilors to seek more say in the Public Works Department’s tree-cutting decisions.
After much discussion, however, the committee that oversees the department stopped short of making a policy or ordinance change to give the council oversight of tree-cutting procedures.
Instead, the committee is recommending the city’s Urban Tree Board considers a policy that would prevent the kind of “clear-cutting,” Councilor Tom Bridge said he observed on Superior’s waterfront.
“No one should be able to cut large amounts of trees or brush or whatever in what amounts to a clear cut based on one person’s decision,” Bridge said. “… I think there should be limits.”
Councilor Bob Browne, who joined Bridge in seeking limits, said where it happened is of particular concern.
A member of the Lake Superior Bi-National Forum and the governor’s council on coastal management, Brown said it’s not environmentally sound to clear-cut to the water’s edge.
“The first part of the shoreline is what really helps protect it,” Browne said. In Douglas County and throughout the state, clear-cutting to the water’s edge is prohibited because it protects water quality, he said.
The city should have an ordinance to prevent that, Browne said. He said an ordinance would hold up through changes in the council over time.
Councilor Warren Bender, said he understands his fellow councilors’ point of view but he’s talked to a number of people who “like the way it looks … they do like the aesthetics.”
Bridge questioned whether those people had a close look at the debris on the water and the extent of the cutting on the water’s edge. While he could understand “a little bit of brushing cutting” to restore some of the view that was not what happened.
Mayor Bruce Hagen said before he took office last year, this was an issue he’d heard about from a number of people.
“People passing through, visitors, businesses on the island … 20 years ago there was a clear view; I’ve got pictures of that,” Hagen said. “Over the last 20 years, no one’s paid attention to that.”
He said there is an aesthetic viewpoint too.
Hagen said the city doesn’t have an issue with leaving the growth longer near the water, but it doesn’t make sense to let everything grow wildly; it doesn’t present an image of a community that cares.
“I’m the one who asked Public Works to do this,” Hagen said. “I did it because of the complaints I’ve been getting even before I moved back here when I would come visit. I believe it was well intended. I believe we should continue doing it … maybe at water’s edge it should be knee- or thigh-length.”
Hagen said he polled residents of the area and found the majority favored restoring the view.
“We should refer to the experts down there and the experts will tell you ‘don’t clear cut down to the water,’” Browne said.
Councilor Mick MacKenzie said he isn’t sure that it would work if public works had to come before the council every time a tree needs to be cut down and recommended referring the matter to another committee for discussion before the cutting is undertaken.
Councilor Bob Finsland agreed, suggesting the city’s Urban Tree Board, which manages the city’s trees.
It was never the intent to have the council approve the cutting of every boulevard tree, Bridge said. However, he said, there have been large cuts that weren’t essential elsewhere, such as trees removed on Wisconsin Point — trees that were reportedly dead but nutrients still seeped from the stumps after they were gone.
“We do need the beauty down there,” said Councilor Mike Herrick of the East Second Street corridor near Barker’s Island. However, he said, the city needs to be mindful of the environment as well.
“We can come up with a policy,” Browne said.
Finsland said there should be something at the water’s edge — not necessarily trees or brush — but at least “goose-high grass.”
The Public Works Committee voted to recommend the Urban Tree Board discuss the issue.