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October 3, 2013

Tree vandalism raises ire of city board

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Two young trees on Division Street and a third on Elm Street have been vandalized, prompting reaction from the Oneonta city Environmental Board.

“It’s been going on for years,” board chairman David Hutchison said Wednesday. “This time, it just made me angry, and I thought let’s do something about it.”

Hutchison reported the vandalism to Oneonta city police, and the Environmental Board is promoting steps to protect the city’s tree population.

The damages are estimated at about $500 per tree, city officials said. But the cost to the community also impacts the appearance of city streets and thwarts efforts of residents, volunteers and employees working to beautify and enhance the city’s environment.

The mayor, Common Council and Environmental have supported a “vigorous tree-planting program” in recent years, according to a media release from the city. Several hundred trees have been planted in parking areas and median in recent years, and in the past two years, the program has been expanded to planting trees on private property with an owner’s permission, Hutchison said.

About 50 trees were planted in the spring, Hutchison said, and another 80 to 100 are to be planted this fall. Hutchison and the Environmental Board are encouraging residents to be on the look out for vandals.

Hutchison, who reported the destruction last week of two trees on Division Street to the Oneonta Police Department, and the city encourage anyone who sees vandalism to call police immediately at 432-1111. The board suggests that residents take steps to curtail future tree vandalism.

“A front porch light in areas with newly planted trees might help deter the reckless conduct of the few,” the release said. “Individuals can make a difference by being alert to potential vandalism and diverting friends from inappropriate behavior. If you see something that is about to happen, say something!”

Hutchison, a retired professor of geology from Hartwick College, said the vandals represent a tiny portion of the population, and though the incidents might be prompted by anger or youthful exuberance resulting in pranks, damaging trees is unnecessary. If the vandals are college students, he said, it’s time for them to flunk out or graduate to make room for smarter students.

Vandals who are caught may face criminal penalties and fines, Hutchison said, but a more appropriate penalty might be a sentence to community service planting trees.

Someone accused of damaging a tree could face a misdemeanor or felony charge of criminal mischief, depending on the extent of property damage, or a misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment if a threat of damage exists, police Sgt. Christopher Witzenburg said.

Young trees are vulnerable, said James Hawver, senior engineering technician in the city’s engineering department. In a few previous incidents, vandals have pulled very young trees out of the ground and walked away with them, he said, and some trees have been run over.

Volunteers have dug holes and planted trees in the past, city officials said, but more recently, city crews have used a backhoe to dig holes to plant larger, more mature trees. The wet weather this year has prompted tree growth, Hawver said, and city crews in past weeks have been trimming trees in along Main Street downtown and along the viaduct.

City residents who are “as irate as members of the Environmental Board” may set up an informal neighborhood groups to “quickly locate vandalized trees” to help law enforcement, the release said. For more information about such an effort, contact Douglas Kendall, city clerk, at 432-6450 or email dkendall@oneonta.ny.us.

Oneonta’s Environmental Board members include Dale Burrington, Tracy Allen, George Palladino, Lucille Wiggin, Richard Denicore and Joan Fox. Larry Malone, Common Council member from the Second Ward, is liaison to the committee.