By Maria Saporta
Tree lovers are alarmed over a bill that passed the House Transportation Committee Monday in a 7-5 vote that threaten trees located along the state’s interstates and limited access highways.
House Bill 501 will require the state to cut all trees along interstate and limited access highways that are tall enough to reach the highway. The bill uses the word “shall” — not “will” or “can” — but “shall.”
“This is a draconian bill that will devastate Georgia highways,” wrote Wilton Rooks, a citizen activist from Gainesville. He urged everyone to send emails to their representatives — especially those on the Rules Committee. The bill is expected to go before the Rules Committee on Tuesday.
Rooks said HB 501 raises all kinds of questions.
First is related to cost. Even though the bill claims to be revenue neutral, it is impossible to know the market value of the thousand of trees that will be cut and how much it will cost to cut them.
How many new Georgia employees will be required to monitor, evaluate and manage the program?
What will replace the sound barrier and visual barrier that many of those trees now provide?
How will the soil erosion protection now provided by the trees be replaced?
How will local, state and federal beautification projects be protected?
“There are too many unanswered questions,” a proposed letter to legislators states. “We urge you to oppose this bill if it comes before the Rules Committee.”
If it does pass the Rules Committee, it will have to pass the whole House, another opportunity for tree advocates to try to get the bill defeated.
Marcia Bansley, founder of Trees Atlanta, said she doesn’t know if there are any estimates of what the bill will cost the state if it passes. But obviously employees would be needed to monitor, inspect and determine what trees should come down each year.
Then the cost of removing trees could be in the millions of dollars because the bill could impact thousands of trees and highway miles. Once the trees were removed, the state would have to address erosion and drainage problems and possibly provide liability.
“At a time when every dollar counts should we pass a bill with these uncertain costs to the state?” the email asked. “We must also not forget the unintended consequences such as removing trees that provide sound and sight barriers for neighborhoods and businesses, not to mention the loss of the benefits these trees provide our state.”