You own land, and don’t like all the trees. So you cut them down. Simple, right? Not if you live in Boiling Spring Lakes. Cutting down trees without a permit goes against a city ordinance that protects an endangered bird, which has put one homeowner in hot water.
The city-wide ordinance has been in place since 2006. Before cutting down a tree you first need a permit. Not abiding by that will cost you.
You might as well think of a pile of pine trees as thousands of dollars; $18,000 to be exact. That is what homeowner Billy Sweat was fined when he cut down dozens of them.
“I just wanted to clear some trees, get some trees out of the way,” said Sweat.
It is not that simple in Boiling Spring Lakes. In 2006, the city passed a tree ordinance requiring new and existing property owners to apply for a permit before cutting down any tree. Each tree chopped down without a permit equals a $500 fine.
“I didn’t know I was supposed to have a permit to do this until they came here and told me. Then they sent me a bill for $18,000,” Sweat said.
All this tree trouble can be traced back to another resident of Boiling Spring Lakes; the red cockaded woodpecker, who calls pine trees their home. The city-wide ordinance has helped keep Boiling Spring Lakes out of the woods with the fish and wildlife service.
Boiling Springs Lake Mayor Marty Kesmodel said, “We are over here with fish and wildlife, people looking over our shoulder and if we don’t enforce these requirements and these ordinances that’s just more leverage for them to put on the city and everybody.”
Sweat, who has lived in Boiling Spring Lakes for the past five years, said he had no idea about an ordinance, or a fine.
The ordinance does have some leeway. The city inspector will grant a permit to homeowners who are not in a wood pecker zone or if a tree is dead, diseased or threatening a house. No permit is needed to cut down a tree less than 8 inches in diameter.
“Residents have an obligation to make sure that before they do some things that they are not normally doing or accustomed too that they check to be sure it’s ok,” said Kesmodel.
“If I knew there was an ordinance, I would have been more than glad to go up there and get a permit, because I didn’t want to do anything wrong to start with,” added Sweat.
Sweat plans to plead his case at a city council meeting. He said he has proof that the majority of the trees he cut are less than 8 inches in diameter.
Sweat said if he could get the find reduced, he would be glad to re-plant some of the trees.