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Possible village tree ordinance draws fire

BUCKEYE LAKE – A farming couple made their opposition to a proposed tree ordinance very clear to the Buckeye Lake Village Council Monday night.

Mill Dam Road resident Jim Cooper strongly opposes a rule within the proposed ordinance stating that anyone removing trees from lots larger than one acre have three options: they must replace downed trees elsewhere on the property, donate trees to a village “tree bank” where they will be held until they can be transplanted somewhere in the village, or they can contribute money to a village tree fund. The rule is intended to stop developers from clear cutting large tracts of land – the Landings at Maple Bay development, for example – but Cooper says it will stop him from making a living. “This is ridiculous!” he exclaimed.

Cooper’s wife, Christy, asked council to reconsider the rule because she and her husband farm trees for timber on their property, and use wood for home heating and as fuel for grain dryers. She opposes excessive clear cutting for development too, but wants an exemption for agriculturally zoned land. Cooper said the ordinance would interfere with her daughter’s plans to build a house on a wooded area of the property. Cooper said she and her husband are experienced farmers and good stewards of the land who handle tree removal and replacement responsibly. The proposed ordinance, as it was written, would stop other good stewards from responsibly farming their property.

“This legislation isn’t formally to council yet,” said Mayor Frank Foster, who added that the Coopers presented a “fair and reasonable” argument. “We can’t negotiate with the developers unless this legislation is in place,” he said, but the Coopers’ point is valid. Foster said he’d ask the village solicitor to take a look at the ordinance and present a solution.

“We didn’t really think about it,” said council member Shelly Small to the Coopers.

Columbia Gas employee Chris Davis told council that utility companies have the right to maintain and remove trees in public right-of-ways if they interfere with gas lines, power lines, etc. He said utility companies are not opposed to vegetation in right-of-ways, but it must be kept under control.

In other council news:

• Council denied Big-O refuse’s request to raise its rate five percent, as its contract with the village allows with council approval. “That’s only an increase of 60 cents a month for customers,” said company representative John Peckscamp. He said since the village contract was signed January 2008, diesel fuel prices surged, workman’s compensation doubled, and health care skyrocketed.

Council member Jeryne Peterson said Big-O should’ve anticipated those expenses before entering into the contract.

“Then why is the increase (permitted) in the contract?” Peckscamp asked.

“This is not the time to be raising rates on people,” said Peterson. She said the village forces the service on residents and even 60 cents per month can become expensive if all services start raising rates.

Council President Charlene Hayden said Big-O’s bid was far lower than other services and a five percent increase is still less overall than other companies.

“We can’t afford to give our police department a raise,” said council member Drew Bourne, who disagreed with Big-O raising its rates.

“We, like you, are suffering along,” said Peckscamp.

Bourne said he’s happy with Big-O’s service, but agreed that it’s the wrong time to ask for a rate increase.

Foster suggested that Peckscamp ask again in four or six months if the economy improves.

Peckscamp said Big-O is collecting trash from places behind on their bills because Big-O employees don’t want the trash to sit in the street. But, without the increase, Big-O will probably stop doing so, he said.

• Foster said Union Township Trustees asked Foster if the village would consider entering into a fire protection contract with Union Township to cover the areas the Hebron Fire Department is currently serving.

The trustees and Hebron village officials are negotiating a contract renewal for the Hebron Fire Department to continue to provide fire and EMS services to the unincorporated portion of the township south of the CSX rail line.

The sticking point is how to use the nearly $200,000 generated by EMS billing since July 2007. Hebron, which hasn’t spent the money, wants to use most of it for capital improvements for the fire department. Trustees want what they consider the township’s share, to go toward meeting its 60 percent share of the department’s operating expenses.

The trustees raised the issue months ago and Hebron Village Council recently agreed to extend the 2008 contract two months into 2009 to provide more time to resolve the issue. Trustees are exploring options in case negotiations are unsuccessful.

“This could be a dramatic change for our fire department,” said Foster. He asked that the safety committee review what would be necessary to fulfill the trustees’ request. Negotiations continue between Union Township and Hebron in the meantime.

In a related matter, Foster said the Federal stimulus package might contain funding for the fire department and possibly the village’s public water distribution system. Bids from water system contractors will be read publicly Feb. 26, 4 p.m. at the Village Offices.

• Director of Development Valerie Hans said Wendy’s and Taco Bell signed up for public water. This means 90 percent of Buckeye Lake businesses want the service. In total, the system now has 977 customers, including the businesses. The village’s goal was 900 customers. The village applied for $3 million in funding from the stimulus package toward the water system, although it’s unknown if the village will receive it.

• Council denied Lancaster attorney Jonathan Clark’s request on behalf of client J. Johnson Investments, LLC to de-annex more than three acres of land from the village into Fairfield County. The land is located on North Bank Road near the Walnut Township line.

Council Clerk Tim Matheny said he believes the de-annexation was requested so the property owner can take advantage of Fairfield County floodplain regulations. Village property adheres to Licking County floodplain regulations even if the property is technically in Fairfield County; he said Licking County’s regulations are more stringent than Fairfield County’s and could complicate property development. Matheny said Fairfield County administrates the de-annexation, but requires village approval to do so.

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