Joseph F. Berenato
Comm. hears testimony
Tree removal applicants at Environmental Commission
HAMMONTON—The Hammonton Environmental Commission heard testimony from two tree removal applicants at their monthly meeting on April 12.
The first applicant was Antonio Illiano of 109 Poplar St. The application requested the removal of five trees with no replacements; according to the application, the trees are starting to rot due to mold and present safety concerns.
Commission Chairperson Dan Bachalis informed his colleagues that he had inspected the trees, and could not approve the trees for removal on his authority alone as he did not see what the applicant saw, and thus the application was referred for commission review.
Commissioner Terri Caruso-Cafiso said that construction prevented her from walking to the property, but she did drive by. Commissioner Chris Bethmann said he was able to inspect the trees.
“I saw no evidence of rot,” Bethmann said.
Bethmann said that he did see damage to an oak tree behind the house.
“It has a little bit of damage to a few branches, but, other than that, it’s healthy,” Bethmann said.
“The pines look to be eminently healthy. The one tree nearest the house could benefit from some judicious pruning. I didn’t see any evidence of tilting or unusual uplift,” Bachalis said.
Illiano said that he has two young children, and felt that the trees are not safe. Additionally, he presented a letter from a neighbor noting that one tree has had branches and limbs fall onto their property.
“Branches from one tree have fallen on my neighbor’s fence, which I replaced for them,” Illiano said.
Illiano said that branches from the trees in question are getting closer to his house.
“We don’t feel safe. We are looking to put in a pool next year; I do want to replace those trees, but not with stuff that’s that high,” Illiano said.
Illiano asked the other commissioners if they had visually inspected the trees in his back yard.
Commissioners Amy Menzel and Steve Carr said that they did not. Councilman Jonathan Oliva and Commissioners Charles Crowley, Luis Antonio Diaz Campos, Michael Hozik and Martha Matro were absent from the meeting.
Bachalis said that the trees appear to be in full health, and reiterated that they would benefit from pruning. Carr commented further to the applicant.
“If you’re pruning trees, you don’t need our permission for it. If you were to hire a company to come in and take off all the large branches that you think might be dangerous, as long as you’re not killing the tree you don’t need our permission,” Carr said.
Additionally, Bachalis informed the applicant that the dogwood tree on the application was under the necessary size that requires a permit for removal.
“You can just take that down without even talking about it,” Bachalis said.
Bachalis said that pruning the trees, at this point, seemed to be a better option until Illiano was ready to install the aforementioned pool.
“What would really be helpful is to have a diagram of where your pool company plans to place this pool so we can properly assess the impact on the trees, roots and whatnot,” Bachalis said.
Bachalis noted that Illiano’s application makes no mention of said pool.
“We’ll be able to be in a better position to assess once we see where you’re actually going to putting the pool in,” Bachalis said.
“The reason that was given for removing trees wouldn’t fly with me; it looks like you’re just trying to clear the whole back yard. If it’s a matter of issuing a permit for construction once it’s time to put in the pool, yeah, where you’re putting the pool is going to be impacted by trees … if it becomes an issue for construction of a pool, we can consider this,” Bethmann said.
Caruso-Cafiso made a motion to deny the permit as submitted with a recommendation to prune the trees in question, and to submit a new application once more information regarding the location of the proposed pool is available. Carr seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously.
The second applicant was William Parkhurst of 890 Central Ave. for the removal of two trees.
Parkhurst’s application was entertained at the commission’s February meeting but was tabled until March, as the trees were not marked, as is required by the application process. At the March meeting, he commission voted to table the application a second time to request the applicant to appear before the commission to explain the removal of the two trees prior to approval of the application.
Bachalis informed the commission that he serves with Parkhurst on the Lake Water Quality Advisory Committee, and thus was recusing himself from discussion and vote of the matter.
“Where I grew up, when we recused ourselves from a matter, we left the room, so I’m going to leave the room,” Bachalis said.
Bachalis turned over control of the meeting to Caruso-Cafiso—the commission’s vice chair—and exited the room.
Parkhurst addressed the commission.
“Where I live, the charm is in the trees and the water, and I would never unnecessarily cut a tree down,” Parkhurst said.
Parkhurst described his situation.
“I had two trees. The small tree was actually leaning over the property of my neighbor, and it had fallen it would have damaged his fence—so that had a 100 percent chance of causing that damage. The other tree, the larger tree, was right on the line; probably it was 50/50 of it falling over and cause damage,” Parkhurst said.
Parkhurst said he contacted a contractor to remove the trees. Caruso-Cafiso asked for the name of the contractor.
“I don’t have that information right in front of me, but he was referred a good friend who’s articulated well and whose opinion that I respect,” Parkhurst said.
Parkhurst said that he submitted the application shortly before the commission’s February meeting, and noted that Crowley had inspected the trees, but one was unmarked.
“Monday morning—two days before your regular meeting—I’d hoped, by that time, that you folks who wanted to see it could have seen it yourself. With misgivings, the contractor was there—four eager faces ready to go to work,” Parkhurst said.
Caruso-Cafiso inquired further.
“He didn’t ask you for a permit? The contractor who cut the trees down did not ask you to see a permit signed by us?” Caruso-Cafiso said.
Parkhurst replied in the negative, and continued.
“No, he did not. So, I said go ahead. There were two fears: one was it falling on my neighbor’s fence, and the other was, when was he going to be able to get back?” Parkhurst said.
Parkhurst said that he was unaware of any issues with his actions.
“I didn’t know anything about it until I happened to read it in The Gazette,” Parkhurst said.
Bethmann commented further.
“The difficulty I have is that I came out to take a look at the trees, and they were gone. I was looking at what was left, which was stumps, and there was minimal amount of heart rot in each tree in a stump that is very large. That much heart rot means nothing. From everything I could see, I could see absolutely nothing that shows anything wrong with the trees,” Bethmann said.
Caruso-Cafiso said that the application indicated that the trees were dead, and Bethmann countered.
“They might have been, but I have no way of knowing that,” Bethmann said.
Bethmann noted the requirements regarding tree removal.
“There has to be a permit. Specifically, our regulations say there has to be a permit onsite.
You have to have a copy. The person cutting the trees has to have a copy,” Bethmann said.
“The contractor should have been very aware, and should never have cut the trees down without this signed permit in his hands,” Caruso-Cafiso said.
“I have done this before,” Parkhurst said.
“I know you did. I remember you putting a permit in before,” Caruso-Cafiso said.
Caruso-Cafiso opened discussion for courses of action.
“I have suggested before—like we did with the other two people we had in the past—instead of fining Mr. Parkhurst, making a donation—a contribution—to our tree bank that we have here in town,” Caruso-Cafiso said.
“Is that something we can check on?” Menzel said.
“We can, afterwards. Does that sit right with you, sir? Making a donation—I figure it’s like $200, instead of the $1,000 fine—to the tree bank in town?” Caruso-Cafiso said.
Carr suggested lowering the amount to $100, and Caruso-Cafiso continued.
“We would use them as we see necessary, once you make the donation of $100 to the town of Hammonton, and you earmark that on there: ‘Environmental Commission.’ Dan, after he gets done, will be able to set all that up at town hall so they know your donation is going towards the tree bank,” Caruso-Cafiso said.
Bethmann made a motion to accept the donation, which Carr seconded. The motion was approved unanimously by those present.
Later in the meeting, Caruso-Cafiso provided a summary of the discussion and the subsequent motion to Bachalis, who expressed concerns.
“We really can’t require an applicant to make a payment to the Environmental Commission in lieu of a fine. We can’t make a requirement to an applicant to make a contribution to the Environmental Commission for any purpose,” Bachalis said.
Bachalis said that the matter had been discussed in May of 2021, when Town Solicitor Michael Malinsky addressed the commission about a similar issue and said that trees cut without a permit should sent to the town’s code enforcement office.
Carr inquired as to procedure, as the motion had been approved.
“What are our options?” Carr said.
“Why don’t I send a request to Solicitor Malinsky and say, ‘The Commission took this action; it’s not within our purview, please advise as to options for action in this matter,’” Bachalis said.
The commissioners agreed to the course of action.
During the meeting, the commission also approved the following applications:
• Katie Ferrara, 740 Valley Ave. Four trees, four replacements. Dead and diseased, too close to home.
• Josephine Romeo, 401 Grape St. One tree, no replacement. Too close to house.
The commission entertained an application submitted by Atlantic City Electric for the removal of two trees at 300 N. Second Street. The application was tabled pending further information.
The commission also entertained an application submitted by Rae Reynolds Gross of 54 Main Rd. for the removal of one tree with no replacement. According to the applicant, the tree in question appeared to have mold on it.
Bethmann said he spoke to the property owners, who noted concerns that it could possibly fall into a neighbor’s yard.
“The tree is reasonably healthy; it has a little bit of die-back in it, not much. After last year’s drought, I’m surprised there aren’t more dead trees around town,” Bethmann said.
Bethmann said the substance on the tree is not mold, but lichen.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a tree that’s been around for a while that doesn’t have lichen on it. For somebody who doesn’t know what it is, they think it’s doing damage to the tree, but they’re cohabitating quite nicely,” Bethmann said.
Bethmann then made a motion to deny the application.
“I think the owners are sort of expecting that. I don’t think they’ll have a problem with it,” Bethmann said.
Carr seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously.
In other business, while presenting the report from the Hammonton Green Committee, Menzel said the Hammonton Community Garden was getting ready to open for April 22.
“We’ll be adding some signage to the garden and scheduling garden talks,” Menzel said.
The seed library, Menzel said, is “going strong.”
“We still plan to make it countywide with help from the master gardeners at the library system, but we weren’t able to get that moving forward in the spring, so we’ll work on that over the summer,” Menzel said.
Menzel said that the committee was working on recertification from Sustainable Jersey.
“They’ve changed the schedule for submitting application, so it’s going to be a little challenging,” Menzel said.
Under new business, Bachalis said that the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC) will be running a webinar on plastic pollution on May 4.
“It’s free to members of the commission. They’ll be talking about the fact that it’s year anniversary of the plastic bag ban, and they’ll also be talking about progress they’ve made since then to control plastic pollution,” Bachalis said.
Menzel commented further.
“All of ANJEC’s webinars, after the fact, are available on their YouTube channel,” Menzel said.
Bachalis also said that the Pinelands Preservation Alliance is initiating a science forum series on May 19.
“The first session is going to be on climate change. They’ll be bringing in real scientists to talk about the latest findings about climate change and its impact on New Jersey,” Bachalis said.
The Hammonton Environmental Commission regularly meets on the second Wednesday of each month. Their next meeting is scheduled for May 10 at 7 p.m.