Canton Township, MI — In the land of the free, you must ask permission from government before you modify your own property. If you do not first ask for permission and pay them, you can face heavy fines and, or imprisonment. Two brothers in Michigan are learning this the hard way after they cut down trees on their own property. Now the state is telling them to pay up—a half million dollars.
Gary and Matt Percy have been told by their local rulers that because they failed to obtain the proper permit before cutting down 1,400 trees—on their own property—that they now owe $225-$450 per tree.
The brothers own a 16-acre plot of land that they cleared in preparation for planting a Christmas tree farm, according to their attorney Michael J. Pattwell. But they didn't ask the government for permission first, so now they must pay up.
"Canton Tree Police showed up," said Pattwell. "Canton Township's tree removal ordinance prohibits landowners from removing trees from private property without government permission, which may be obtained by either payment into the township's so-called tree fund or on-site replacement with trees of certain designated trunk diameters."
What's more, the property was full of invasive plants and not really trees.
The land was filled with "invasive plants like phragmites, buckthorn and autumn olive," Pattwell said.
But the government disagrees. To assess the fines, local officials had their 'expert arborist' survey a nearby property which they claim had similar trees.
"They identified certain plots," Township attorney Kristin Kolb said. "They identified the number or type of trees and did some math to figure out approximately how many trees."
According to mLive, the arborist estimated 1,385 trees with trunk diameter of six inches or more were removed. That could mean $225 to $300 per tree in penalties. Anther 100 landmark trees were also removed, the township estimated, meaning another $450 each.
According to the brothers' attorney, however, the government uses a broad set of terms to define "tree" which makes just about anything fit the definition, even invasive brush and dead trees.
"Canton Township defines 'trees' as 'any woody plant with at least one well-defined stem and having a minimum diameter at breast height of three inches.' The Percy parcel was used historically by a local farmer for dairy pasture, so much of the vegetation on the parcel was invasive buckthorn, scrub brush and dead ash trees."
According to mLive, Patterson also points out an exemption in the township ordinance, which states "all agricultural/farming operations, commercial nursery/tree farm operations and occupied lots of less than two acres in size, including utility companies and public tree trimming agencies, shall be exempt from all permit requirements of this article."
Based on the aforementioned ordinance, the brothers were clearly within the law. But this is irrelevant to the officials who want their money.