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Supervisors Discuss Tree Removal

By Staff | Jul 1, 2008

A request by a landowner in Drainage District 175 to have some extra trees removed as part of a current project on the ditch created some discussion for the Palo Alto County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 24. The discussion revolved around charges for tree removal on a repair project being partially funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Supervisor Keith Wirtz opened the discussion by explaining he had been contacted by Greg Garrelts, a landowner along DD175, asking that several trees at the end of the current repair area of the ditch be removed, as the contractor was on the site and could take the additional trees out with little additional expense to the drainage district. Wirtz reported that he had checked into the request, and found that the contractor, LA Carlson and Sons, could remove the trees in question for an additional $1,000. However, when Wirtz checked with Gary Atherton, a field inspector for Kuehl and Payer Engineering, he found that the removal of trees in the DD repair was already up to $26,000 above the estimated cost to repair the ditch, which was damaged by flooding in 2007.

“I was told by Gary Atherton that the contractor had to remove trees as big around as 20 to 30 inches that were growing in sandbars in the ditch,” Wirtz explained. “Those trees had to come out to do the work right.”

“But who authorized that expenditure?” Supervisor Ed Noonan asked, referring to the additional $26,000. “I’d think tree removal should have been part of the repair bid.”

County Auditor Gary Leonard noted that to his recollection, when meeting with FEMA about the ditch repair, FEMA had said there would be no need to remove any trees to make the repairs. All that needed to be done in the ditch was to fix washouts.

After placing a call to Atherton, he appeared in the boardroom to explain the tree issue to the board.

“The problem with FEMA is that they are paying for damage done in August of last year,” Atherton noted, “but the trees in the bottom of that ditch were 30 and 36 inches across, so they were there when the damage occurred. But, FEMA only pays for moving dirt, not removing trees.”

According to Atherton’s field inspection, in the one-mile stretch of the ditch being repaired, the cost to remove trees totaled $26,500, and the original engineer’s estimate for the repair had allowed $5,000 for tree removal.

Palo Alto County Engineer Joel Fantz, who sat in on the discussion, explained that when FEMA puts together such a project, the agency bids a quantity of work. “The guy goes out and determines how much dirt has to be removed and nothing else.”

“Didn’t you have to survey the area first?” Supervisor Jerry Hofstad asked Atherton.

“No, under FEMA guidelines, you just do a drive by inspection on it,” was Atherton’s answer.

“FEMA contracts are an indefinite quantity contract,” Fantz added. “You just know that it will change as you get into the project.”

“When we put these projects together, we know going in that our bid will be off,” agreed Atherton.

“So is this normal for FEMA?” asked Board Chair Leo Goeders, who received affirmative responses from both Atherton and Fantz.

“Gary, in your opinion, is the fee being charged for the removal of these trees fair?” asked Wirtz.

Again, Atherton answered to the affirmative.

Greg Garrelts, who originated the request for additional tree removal, told the board he had just come from the ditch prior to coming to the board meeting. “The work that they’ve done out there is what needed to be done, that’s for sure.”

Garrelts continued, “Those trees needed to be out of there. If those trees hadn’t been taken out, the ditch would have started cutting into the fields and then you’d have to go in and reshape the whole thing.”

“I guess I feel that if taking out some trees is going to help complete the project, I don’t think it’s too much,” noted Wirtz. “I’m agreeable to go ached and have the extra trees removed.”

Supervisors Ron Graettinger and Hofstad both noted their assent with Wirtz following his statement.

“We will be submitting a change order on the repair contract to you soon to take into account the tree removal on the project,” Atherton assured the board. “Remember, FEMA pays 80 percent of the cost on this repair.”

Noonan asked Garrelts if he understood there would be an assessment through the district to pay for the work, to which Garrelts replied that he did and had no problem with it, ending the discussion.

In other items of business, the board was advised by County Engineer Fantz that there was a possibility that the county might receive a disaster declaration for the storm in early June that caused some road flooding and a couple of ditch washouts. Fantz noted his department had documented damages and the cost of repairs and would submit those numbers if the declaration was made.

County Mental Health Director Maureen Sandberg advised the board that she had received the cost report from Kathleen’s Care, Inc., and that the numbers supported the request for a rate increase for care of Palo Alto County residents from five to nine percent. The increase was approved unananimously after limited discussion by the board members.