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Posted: July 21, 2012 8:19 p.m.

City can't get downed trees on private land

As Diahann Thames got ready to leave her Covington home during Saturday morning's storm, she heard a loud "thump" which turned out to a tree crashing down on her driveway and narrowly missing her parked car. She was relieved she had already gotten into the car, but found her and her family blocked in.

Thames called the city of Covington for help, but officials said they couldn't move the tree because it was on private property and remained on private property after it fell.

City Manager Steve Horton said Saturday that his understanding, based on previous discussions on the issue with the city attorney and others, is that the city is not responsible for the removal of trees or downed trees on private property.

"I'm sorry we couldn't help her...(but) the big issue and point of contention is the use of public resources on private property," Horton said. "That invokes arguments from residents that they pay utilities, but those payments go toward maintaining public rights-of-way and easements, not private property."

Thames did use such an argument and said she was surprised that the community wasn't willing to work with her, particularly during a minor emergency like a storm. Originally from Washington D.C., and an employee of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Thames said she hoped someone would be able to help her. However, in the end, she called her insurance company to assist with the problem.

"I'm trapped on foot right now...I couldn't believe they left me like this. What if we had a (family) emergency?" asked Thames, noting that she would have to drive across her neighbors' yard to get to the street.

Horton said the city may occasionally take action if a tree is in danger of downing a power line or falling and blocking a public street, but even in that case, city ordinances specify the responsibility is on the private property owner.

"It shall be the duty of owners of property within the corporate limits of the city to maintain trees growing thereon so as to prevent such trees from becoming a danger to existing city streets or utility right-of-way easements and appurtenances thereto or to persons in the vicinity of such trees," according to Covington code section 14.28.270, dealing with hazardous trees.

In addition, the code goes on to say that if a potential danger exits to public property, city building officials can notify residents that they are required to take action to eliminate that danger; failure to do can be deemed a nuisance and prosecuted as such.

 

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