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Ferrisburgh board wants meeting with farmers about tree-cutting

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Jan. 16 met for an hour behind closed doors with town attorney James Carroll and tree warden Cliff Mix to discuss what one board member called “the Vorsteveld tree-cutting issue,” but took no official action.
But Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence this week acknowledged the board asked Carroll to set up a meeting with the members of the Vorsteveld family who own the farm along Arnold Bay Road — and this past spring paid to have the east side of its 0.75 mile in Ferrisburgh clear-cut.
Following complaints from neighbors the selectboard sent two certified letters to the Vorstevelds calling the act illegal cutting of public shade trees in the public right of way, and saying they technically face up to about $1 million in fines.
In the second letter, dated Nov. 22, Carroll cited law that he said meant the farm owners “as individuals and partners of Vorsteveld Farm LLP, are subject to a fine of not more than $500 for each tree so injured or removed, as well as an award of damages … for the trespass and removal of the shade trees, as well as other injunctive relief to assure that the damage caused is mitigated through a replanting plan.”
Lawrence said the only official response to that letter so far has been a response before a Jan. 1 deadline to acknowledge receipt of the letter.
Now, she said, the board would like to meet and possibly talk about a settlement.
“Maybe we can come to some sort of satisfactory mutual agreement,” Lawrence said. “Maybe there’s some sort of happy medium.”
Lawrence said the selectboard and Carroll believe mediation could work.
“We really just want to sit down and talk about it,” she said.
According to one Vermont law, landowners may not cut trees in a town right-of-way without first receiving permission from a town tree warden or a selectboard, and the fine is up to $500 per tree for “any person who willfully critically injures or cuts down a public shade tree without written permission.”
Carroll references several state statutes the Vorstevelds allegedly violated by hiring a contractor to remove, per the letter, 306 shade trees with trunks at least 6-inch diameters and another 1,870 trees and shrubs along Arnold Bay Road.
But another tree warden in the region, who prefers to remain anonymous, identified another statute that appears to support the Vorstevelds’ position that the farm owners had a right to remove what Hans Vorsteveld has described to the Independent as an “overgrown hedgerow.” Vorsteveld also said the work was done to add cropland and improve drainage, and the finished product would be attractive.
That statute, 19 V.S.A. § 901 refers to “Removal of roadside growth,” and it reads: “A person, other than the abutting landowner, shall not cut, trim, remove, or otherwise damage any grasses, shrubs, vines, or trees growing within the limits of a State or town highway, without first having obtained the consent of the Agency for State highways or the selectmen for town highways.”
And in a June meeting devoted to the tree-cutting issues, Carroll said the statutes on the issue “are not black and white” and “have gray about them,” although he added he was also confident in the town’s position.
This week Lawrence held out hope that a meeting could find middle ground. She acknowledged the board “has something in mind” for a resolution, and said possibly the Vorstevelds do, also.
“We don’t want everybody to spend money,” Lawrence said. “They could have something in mind they want to propose.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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