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City Council Discusses Downtown Tree Liability

October 5, 2017
by Anna Veltri , Emmetsburg News

The Emmetsburg City Council met on Monday, Sept. 26. In New Business, Ron Askland, the Horizon's Unlimited CEO, approached Councilman Ryan Berkland regarding the tree located in front of the Horizon's building. In the past, Emmetsburg businesses have asked to have the trees removed as they have caused the sidewalk to buckle in some places.

"He [Askland] had emailed me. They had one employee that tripped on the broken cement out in front of their workplace. And then they noticed a passerby-er who had also stumbled but caught themselves before falling on the tree," Berkland explained.

"We've allowed a couple to come out, and I regret those trees. The one in front of Hughes and in front of the chiropractor," Councilman Mike Hermansen stated. "I've looked at that several times since we allowed it, and I'm just sick that we allowed it. And I think I was the one that made the motion, so shame on me."

The State of Iowa plans to come to Emmetsburg within the next couple of years to replace all of the sidewalks in the downtown area. This creates a problem as it blurs the lines of who is responsible for sidewalk repair. According to the Emmetsburg City Ordinance, the business owner with the abutting property is responsible for maintaining the integrity of the sidewalk.

"If you drive down the street here, and notice [the trees] they really look good. They're healthy trees and provide some [] character," Hermansen continued. "We don't have a lot of green area downtown."

"If they're going to take it out they need to do something with the hole other than just throw some gravel in it like some of them have," Councilman Brian Campbell commented.

"If it was up to me, I would not have let anyone take them out. I certainly would not have let Burns Chiropractic take that one out. It was a healthy tree," said City Administrator John Bird. "A temporary fix, I think, Frank, unless you disagree. You get a small grinder over here and grind down the high spots but you hate to spend a lot of money replacing sidewalks that are going to get replaced in a few years- or a couple years."

"Is it the business owner's responsibility on the sidewalks?" asked Berkland.

"Our code says it is the business owner's responsibility or the abutting property owner to fix faulty sidewalks. The only thing is- was it in the eighties? I think they went through and did the sidewalks and assessed all the property owners," Bird explained. "But it [the code] states you cannot assess private property for public improvement- the same public improvement a second time until the public improvement has gone past its useful life."

"But they're responsible for the liability of that sidewalk also?" asked Councilman Bill Burdick.

"They are," Bird replied.

"So that's where it comes too. The business owner should take care of its own sidewalks," Burdick stated.

"How can you tell them they can't take down the tree if they have to pay for all of the liability of somebody falling twice?" asked Chamber Director Deb Hite. "I mean, I get it I like the trees too, but we're at the point right now where about half of them are gone. So I think what we need to do is actually come up with a plan for the future, so that we don't have one tree on this block and one tree on another [] We've talked about this issue probably for seven years, as long as I've been at the Chamber, and never ever come to a decision of what we're going to do moving forward."

"Next year when the times comes to replace the sidewalks - or the next couple years- are the trees planning on going no matter what then?" questioned Burdick.

"No, not necessarily," Bird responded. "The gentleman did tell me when he stopped in here though. If we are considering any type of greenscape project, other than just flat concrete sidewalks, that we need to let them know so they can work with our engineer so they can incorporate into the project. I think that the community looks much more appealing and warm with the trees. But now it's pretty haphazard."

"Anytime you take something out, it should be replaced with something," Hermansen commented in regards to businesses that have previously removed their trees.

"We could help them [Emmetsburg businesses], you know, if they all got together- if there's some way we can get the word out or Frank can inventory where they are and [] arrange to have a little skid loader mount grinder or something," Bird suggested.

A motion was made by Mike Hermansen to take action to correct the sidewalk with out removing the tree in front of Horizons; Bill Burdick seconded it. The motion carried unanimously.



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