Indian Hill Associates LLC -- and the town of Bluffton -- have some explaining to do.
The town has sued the developer, claiming it essentially clear-cut nearly 108 acres of property along U.S. 278, violating town ordinance. About 5,800 trees were cut, according to the town, that were protected by the town's tree and landscaping ordinances. The rules prohibits the removal of trees larger than 8 inches in diameter without approval. An additional 350 trees were cut, according to the lawsuit, that were 24 inches in diameter or larger.
In all, 98 percent of the trees on that portion of the Willow Run site were cut, the town alleges, affecting wetlands and wetland buffers. Some of the trees were also part of a nearly 20-acre tract donated to the town while others were protected by a conservation easement.
It's sad and disturbing to see the destruction of a wooded piece of property that was likely home to much wildlife. Our region prides itself on natural preservation. To see preservation goals trampled in such a flagrant way demands an explanation, reparations and replanting.
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Bluffton's suit seeks monetary damages, including the timber profits and damages triple the value of the removed trees. It also calls for the replacement of the trees.
While it's good to see the town taking the situation seriously, it is not without blame. Common sense says the timbering project took several days. Why did town officials not notice the alleged violation sooner? The lawsuit states that the town was notified of the tree removal work in June. Why did it take notification from an outside party?
While tree and landscaping ordinances are important preservation tools, equally important is enforcement. Regular check-ins by a town official may have stopped the destruction long before its completion.
As town officials pursue legal action, they should also take a closer look at their own policies and require more supervision of large projects like this one.
It will be years before planted trees reach the height of the timbered ones. Let's hope it doesn't take as long for Bluffton to step up enforcement.