Warren tree ordinance to get a pruning

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Amidst more puns than you can shake a stick at, Warren Town Council members broached some serious property rights issues Tuesday night when they discussed a proposed new tree ordinance.

The ordinance, first introduced by the Warren Tree Commission last year, had sat on a shelf since last August before being dusted off by town councilor Joseph DePasquale.

The document would redefine the roles of the commission and tree warden, provide an avenue for the protection of significant trees on public property, and take other steps councilors and the commission's chairman Chuck Staton said are much needed, including clarifying the responsibilities of public utilities, such as National Grid, when trimming trees.

However, one section drew wary responses from most in attendance — so-called "significant" trees on private property.

As written, anyone who has a "significant" tree on their property — defined solely by girth and height — would have to consult with the town, and get permission, prior to removing it. Councilors, including Mr. DePasquale, expressed concern that the procedure goes too far. Town solicitor Anthony DeSisto agreed:

"My concern is the definition of a significant tree. Defining it by size is going to be a problem," Mr. DeSisto offered.

"I fully support this tree ordinance but I am very concerned about private property issues," added councilor David Frerichs. "I would like to see a lot of the private stuff taken out, unless its voluntary."

"Some compromise has to be met to get some tree ordinance on the books for overall preservation of what is another asset to the Town of Warren," councilor Scott Lial added. But "the private property aspect is sticky and tricky at best."

Councilor Cathy Tattrie took issue with the privacy issue as well, but also had a beef with the responsibilities of the tree warden, which could increase under the new ordinance. That job is currently held by DPW head John Massed, and she said it would be unfair to heap even more responsibility on him. But Mr. Massed said he and commission members would share the load, too:

"You have a tree commission that is sitting there month after month," he said. "We can help. We believe that's what we're here for."

Mr. DeSisto said he will review the proposed ordinance and make some changes, then bring them before the council at next month's meeting:

"I do believe there needs to be some pruning, maybe put in some guy wires, perhaps branch out," he said. "This will be a significant and positive change for our leafy friends."

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.