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One more revision under way for revised county tree rules

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Tougher tree protection rules proposed for Georgetown County are being modified by county officials in an effort to make them more reasonable.

“We’re working away at it to try to reach some resolution,” said County Council Member Glen O’Connell. “We’re exploring options for an alternative that might pass.”

The proposed rules went before council for approval in May and were promptly sent to a subcommittee for revisions that would make the ordinance more reader friendly, close loopholes in the wording and eliminate vague phrases that could have unintended consequences.

A corrected version of the rules wasn’t greeted any more favorably when the subcommittee, which is chaired by O’Connell, met two weeks ago.

O’Connell is working with County Administrator Sel Hemingway and planning director Boyd Johnson to modify the ordinance before the subcommittee meets again Aug. 10. He wouldn’t give details about changes being made, but earlier this month he called the rules “overreaching” and said they put too many restrictions on residential property owners.

The rules would require residential property owners to get a permit to cut down protected trees, which are generally hardwoods with trunks at least 8 inches in diameter.

O’Connell was doubtful the rules, in that form, would receive enough support for a majority vote when they went back to council.

The subcommittee planned to meet only once more, but because members will have limited time to review the new changes before the next meeting, O’Connell said a third meeting will probably be needed.

What the subcommittee will see next month “will be a fair bit different than anything that has been seen so far,” he added.

Local environmentalists said they don’t see anything wrong with rules already proposed, but they wouldn’t object to less intense rules. They just want something put in place that offers real protection to trees.

“If they want to scale it down, that’s their choice,” said.

Bob Schuhmacher, a retired botanist and a member of the Sierra Club. But “we need something enforceable in place. If it’s not enforceable, we’re back to square one.”

The proposed rules are an effort to make an existing tree ordinance more effective. The current ordinance is hard to interpret and enforce, Johnson, said. That was proven last year when the county cited a business for illegal cutting and the case didn’t hold up in court.

A magistrate said the rules were “ambiguous.”

Planning officials wanted to be sure that wouldn’t be an issue with the new rules. The proposal makes it clear that every tree illegally cut is a separate offense — something the existing ordinance failed to do — and includes a longer list of protected trees.

The number of protected species the proposed rules call for was another complaint O’Connell had, but Schuhmacher said the list is reasonable.

“There are thousands of varieties of trees and our list is something like 25 or 30,” he said. “Why would anybody think that’s disproportionately large?”

He met with planning staff on Tuesday to go over the list and talk about criteria used to determine which trees are protected. He said protected trees should be hardwoods native to Georgetown County, and should grow “rather slowly, so they can last and be a source of beauty for several generations.”

Schuhmacher questions a part of the ordinance that would allow a sabal palmetto tree, which is depicted on the state flag, as a replacement tree.

“That’s not a hardwood tree at all,” he said. “It’s not a shade tree and it doesn’t provide the same kind of beauty and coverage you see in an oak tree or a tupelo.”

Whatever compromises are made on the rules before it goes back to council, Hobie Kraner, retired county chairman of the Sierra Club’s Winyah chapter, said he hopes the amended ordinance “is done right.”

“We’ve waited two years for this and whatever we end up with, I want it to be the best it can be,” he said.

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