Dangerous Trees in East Lansing?

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018, 8:32 am
Jessy Gregg

Following an accident in Dewitt Township earlier this month, in which a 32-year-old man was killed when a tree fell on his car, ELi received a question from a reader wondering about a tree on Abbot Road which is growing at a dramatic angle.

"I'm sure there are other, more dangerous, trees in town,” our reader wrote.

“I just happen to drive under this one all the time and the angle scares me,” he continued. “I am curious what the protocol would be on something like that?”

In order to answer this question, we reached out to Cathy DeShambo, East Lansing’s Environmental Services Administrator.

How are dangerous trees identified in East Lansing?

Says Deshambo, “Hazardous trees are identified through the presence of three factors. We are first going to establish if there an existing defect or tree part that poses a high risk of failure or fracture. Secondly, we are looking at what target could potentially be struck if that failure occurred such as people or property.”

“Finally,” she explains, “we need to consider whether the environment increases the likelihood of that tree failing; storms, strong winds, soil conditions, restrictive growing spaces can all come into play.”

DeShambo also explained, in her response to our questions, that East Lansing performed a Street Tree Inventory in 2017. The inventory tracked ten thousand trees – nine thousand of which are street trees – so that maintenance crews could more easily assess the condition of the trees and track the work that has been done, or needs to be done.

Trees that are assessed to be in poor condition, “posing more than moderate risk,” are removed. That work is in addition to the regular pruning schedules.

DeShambo also noted that “residents are really good about notifying us when they are concerned about a tree’s suddenly changed condition.”

In some cases, when risk seems to be particularly high, emergency removals can be performed. DeShambo provided a recent example where a semi-trailer truck hit a tree recently and the unstable tree was removed the same day.

DeShambo asked that residents not attempt to prune city-owned trees themselves, but rather bring pruning needs to the City’s attention, so that they can take care of any required maintenance.

What about dangerous trees on private property, like the tree our reader asked about?

Because that tree, located at 522 Abbot Road (above), is definitely on private property but reaching well over the sidewalk, I asked DeShambo if the City had a way of compelling private property owners to address dangerous trees.

DeShambo was aware of the specific tree that our reader had been concerned about, and responded, “We have certainly kept an eye on it and have asked our contractor to look at it previously, as well. The opinion has been that it has been stable in that position for a long time but I do understand the concern for the way it leans out.”

The property at 522 Abbot Road is owned and occupied by the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. We stopped by and asked the brothers there what they knew about the history of the tree. One told us that, while it had also concerned him when he first moved in, he had learned that the tree had always been like that – that the fraternity has photographs from the 1950s showing brothers with the tree, growing at just that angle.

DeShambo said that if there is a change in the situation which took a tree from “stable” to probably actively dangerous, the City does have means of compelling a property owner to remove a tree.

Whether a tree is privately- or publicly-owned, the same clearance rules apply. Trees which over hang a roadway must be cleared to a height of 12 feet, and trees over a sidewalk to 7 feet.

“Tree pruning and tree removal are a vital part of hazard mitigation and maintaining a healthy and safe urban forest; cleaning dead wood out, raising up, and ensuring there are no detached or hanging branches are all critical tasks to maintaining our urban forest,” DeShambo told us.

If a resident has concerns regarding a potentially dangerous tree, she or he can bring it to the City’s attention by contacting DeShambo by email at cdesham@cityofeastlansing.com, by calling her office at 517-319-6936, or by contacting the Department of Public Works main line at 517-337-9459.

Thanks to our reader for the question, and to Cathy DeShambo for the answer. Have a question you'd like ELi to investigate, to try to answer? Contact us!


Photos and reporting on the frat's tree's history contributed by Alice Dreger.


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