TRAVERSE CITY — More trees are coming down in Traverse City, leaving empty lots that upset some neighbors, Kimberly Homminga among them.
Her house is east of Cherry Capital Airport land formerly forested but now cleared, save a belt of trees along three sides, cuttings maps show.
Homminga said owls and other wildlife were frequent sights in the seven years she’s lived there. Now she can see planes in one direction and store lights from roughly two miles away, she said.
“It is a shame, it’s very sad, not only for the destruction of the trees but the loss of wildlife we have back there now,” she said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture identified that wildlife as a threat to planes prior to a recent runway expansion, airport Manager Kevin Klein said. Previous efforts to mitigate that risk, including tasking the since-deceased dog Piper with chasing off wildlife, weren’t enough.
So the Northwestern Regional Airport Commission, which oversees the airport, chose to change the habitat as the USDA suggested, Klein said. Birds in flight pose risks to planes, as to deer and other wildlife venturing onto airport property, he said.
“At some point, you have to make a difficult decision to remove the habitat, even though it’s not always maybe popular with the public, but it’s one about protecting those that travel into and out of the airport, and those in the community,” he said.
A sign by the just-cleared property lists it as for lease. Klein said the airport commission has a goal of an environmentally conscious reuse, including a possible renewable energy project for the airport.
The project is nearly done and cost nearly $328,000, with timber sales shaving around $200,000 off the project cost, said Bob Nelesen, Airport Project Manager for Prein & Newhof. Other cuttings, required by the Federal Aviation Administration, include:
n clear-cutting 14 acres and 22 acres of cutting trees 40 feet tall and higher south of the airport’s north-south runway.
n clearing land near the airport parking lot for a planned lot expansion and removing hazard trees from 34 acres south of the airport and parking lot.
n cutting east of the airport’s east-west runway, including felling an estimated 200 trees 20 feet tall or taller along a creek there.
Those cuttings will be the last for at least five years, Klein said. Airport authorities will work with Traverse City officials on planting trees in Oakwood Cemetery before eventually cutting tall trees there.
They come nearly four months after city planning commissioners sought more public input for a proposed tree ordinance — Klein said state aviation laws would supersede such an ordinance.
The tree removals aren’t the only ones that have proponents of a draft tree ordinance asking for it sooner rather than later.
City Mayor Jim Carruthers pointed to another lot cleared by The Moorings of Leelanau, a company that owns land north of M-72 slated for development. The lot is near a hill the developers previously cleared.
City Zoning Administrator Dave Weston said the city cited The Moorings of Leelanau for clearing more than 8,000 square feet of vegetation without a land use permit, as city zoning ordinance requires — he estimated the lot as roughly five times as much.
Mark Johnson owns The Moorings of Leelanau, records show. He co-owns 44 North, as the development is now called, he said. He’s contesting the $400 fine in 86th District Court, he said.
Johnson figures the cuttings left 1,000 square feet cleared, but the vegetation in between was left intact, he said.
Heather Smith, baykeeper for Watershed Center Grand Traverse Bay, said the organization requested the city require The Moorings of Leelanau to replant at least an inch for an inch of lost tree diameter — 10 two-inch trees for one felled 20-inch tree, for example.
Northern Michigan Environmental Action Agency co-chairperson Ann Rogers said trees benefit the water, soil and air in ways that go beyond one piece of property.
Johnson acknowledged that pictures of the lot “look terrible” and that people hate to see trees cut down. Trees around the city are abundant, and he committed to planting more, including 300 in the development, he said.
The possibility of a city tree ordinance prompted Johnson to cut more, and sooner, he said.
Restricting cuttings on private property would be an infringement on property owners’ rights akin to taking a land owner’s mineral rights for the benefit of others, he said.
“Do trees benefit us all? Yes, they do. Does oil that’s under the ground benefit? Yes, but you can’t take it, because we don’t live in a country that allows that,” he said.
Carruthers noted Traverse City is a designated “Tree City USA” and said he urged city planning department staff to move ahead with an ordinance — city Planner Russ Soyring said commissioners can consider how to proceed at an April 16 study session.
Soyring said the issue of infringing on private rights is a “classic battle” over zoning. It’ll be up to the community to decide how much regulation there will be. An unscientific survey showed solid support for stronger protections, especially of trees on shorelines and steep slopes.
“I think the regulations will be more than they are today, for sure,” he said.