Most of us recoiled in horror when the federal government first rolled back the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act and then, just last week, pulled the USA out of the Paris Climate Agreement. We live in crazy times. But recent attempts to roll back environmental regulations are not unique to Washington, D.C. Here in Yorktown, we have a town board that has approached these issues with much the same mindset: exploit for financial gain now, and never mind the future. We saw this most recently in April, when a new, much weaker, wetlands “protection” law was promoted by the town board. Enough is enough!
For Yorktown homeowners, town board decisions affecting our local environment are much more significant than any federal legislation. The proposed new wetlands law, for example, would have exacerbated stormwater runoff that causes our neighborhoods to flood and ice over in winter. Likewise, the 2016 tree “protection” law that repealed the much stronger earlier law, is contrary to our best interests and quality of life; its weak and/or non-existent provisions don’t protect our air quality, preserve the aesthetics of our neighborhoods, control flooding and erosion, or provide us with privacy and noise abatement. Yes, trees are just as important to our quality of life as wetlands.
At the April wetlands hearing, after resident after resident spoke up to denounce the proposed new law, Supervisor Grace showed a willingness to listen to residents’ concerns. And to compromise: he agreed to toss out his ill-conceived law and go back to the drawing board. This was welcome news. The same rethinking needs to be done to protect our trees and wooded areas—once they’re gone, they can’t be easily replaced.
The weak 2016 tree law needs to go back to the drawing board. And June 20 is the time to start that process. On this date, the town board will hold a public hearing on a single amendment to the current tree law that would restore the provision requiring the town to obtain a permit to remove trees on town-owned property. Ironically, it was less than a year ago that the very same town board ignored residents when they urged the board to keep the permit requirement for town-owned land. We appreciate the board’s current change of heart in this election season.
Restoring the permit requirement for removing trees on town-owned land is long overdue. But more changes are needed if, as a community, we want a tree law that truly and effectively protects our trees and wooded areas and preserves our quality of life. These are just four of the issues that need revising:
• More trees need to be protected, including Yorktown’s stately old trees.
• More protections are needed for our wooded areas. As currently written, the law focuses only on individual trees.
• Mitigation should be required, not optional, especially when a large number of trees and/or significant portions of wooded areas are clear cut.
• Referral to the conservation board and tree commission should be required, not optional. Why else have these environmental boards?
Last September’s passage of a new tree law never should have happened. But it’s not too late to correct the mistakes that were made. Attend the June 20 hearing (7:30 p.m. at town hall) and urge the town board to go back to the drawing board and, working with community groups, revisit the weakened 2016 law.
Remember what happened in April. When residents filled town hall and spoke up against the proposed new wetlands law, the town board listened. It tossed out its flawed and ineffective proposed new law. On June 20, we can do the same to save our trees and wooded areas.