In 1843, when Apalachicola was not even a decade old, the city passed an ordinance stating “…it shall not be lawful for any person to cut, pull down or otherwise injure any tree, or boxes enclosing same, which now is or hereafter may be planted in any streets of the city.”
Trees have been vital members of our community since its inception, and they are now a significant aspect of our historic landscape. Trees define Apalachicola, a designated “Tree City,” and contribute to our sense of place.
Additionally, trees keep us cool, enhance our air quality, prevent soil erosion, reduce noise pollution and improve mental and physical health. Not only that, they save us millions of dollars. According to a 2016 assessment by the University of Florida Institute Of Food and Agricultural Sciences and the University of South Florida, the tree canopy in Tampa annually saves that city $7 million in energy costs, $3.4 million in stormwater management costs, and $121 million in carbon sequestration and storage. For these reasons, many cities have passed laws to prevent the removal of healthy trees – and Apalachicola is one of them.
After many months of research and discussion, the Apalachicola Tree Committee, appointed by the city, proposed revisions to the city’s 2011 Tree Ordinance. Following public input at several workshops and city commission hearings, the city adopted the revised teee ordinance and it went into effect on May 16.
Highlights of the new ordinance include:
• A revised list of protected native trees. These are bald and pond cypress, eastern and southern red cedar, live oak, longleaf pine, pecan, sabal or cabbage palm, slash pine, southern magnolia, sycamore and water oak.
• Patriarch trees - protected native trees whose diameters are 35 inches or greater - may not be removed or substantially altered except where it poses a hazard, or where it stands in the way of construction of a principal structure. Protected-tree removal permits are required in cases of disease or pest infestation, storm damage and hazard.
• Tree removal permits are not required for unprotected tree species, and trees of protected species that are less than four inches in diameter at breast height.
• Tree removal and trimming along highway and electric utility rights-of-way must comply with state law.
• A permit to remove or substantially alter a damaged protected, non-patriarch tree will not be required when the city declares a state of emergency and determines that permitting requirements will hinder public or private work to restore order to the city. But a permit is required to remove or substantially alter a damaged patriarch tree.
• Any person wishing to remove or substantially alter a protected tree with a diameter of four inches or greater must file an application which is available at City Hall and at the city’s Building department’s webpage.
• A city department wanting to remove or substantially alter a protected tree on city property must make a request to the code enforcement officer.
In addition to the $50 tree removal permit application processing fee, removal fees will be charged and placed in a reforestation fund maintained by the city of Apalachicola. The restoration fund fees will be used to establish and maintain a reforestation program primarily in parks, squares and along the streets. The fees are:
• $25 for a protected tree with a diameter at breast height of four to 16 inches
• $35 for a protected tree with a diameter at breast height of more than 16 to less than 35 inches
• $1,000 for a protected tree with a diameter at breast height of 35 inches or more
• The maximum total restoration fund fee collected for any lot will not exceed $250, except in the case of a permit to remove a patriarch tree which will always cost $1,000 per tree.
Anyone who removes or substantially alters a protected tree without a permit will be charged a double permit application processing fee ($100) for an after-the-fact permit. If an after-the-fact permit is not issued because such removal is not in accordance with the regulations, a fine of up to $500 per tree will be imposed. Finally, anyone removing or substantially altering a patriarch tree without a permit will be fined up to $25,000.
The full tree ordinance is posted on the city building department’s webpage, and the code enforcement officer, who implements the ordinance, may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 653-9319 or 653-8715.