On Thursday afternoon an 85 year old woman fell and injured herself while walking down the sidewalk on Seventh Street close to Scioto County Job and Family Services. She fell and was injured, because a portion of it had been raised by tree roots growing underneath.
Mike Crabtree, Chairman of the Scioto County Commissioners said officials with Job and Family Services, have been trying to get proper permission from the city of Portsmouth to remove the trees for about a year. The county and it’s insurance company identified the area, as having issues that needed to be addressed, soon rather than later.
Shortly after the elderly woman fell, Scioto County Commissioner Bryan Davis said he called Portsmouth City Manager Derek Allen to advise him of the situation and that the county intended to remove the trees and fix the sidewalk on Friday morning.
Davis said, Allen said it was ok and that he would alert the cities Shade Tree Commission about the situation.
Portsmouth City Solicitor John Haas told the Daily Times, “a couple of years ago the county contacted me about work they wanted to do on the sidewalk where the trees were. I referred them to the tree commission and they got an opinion from the tree commission a couple of years ago on what to do. I got a call at about 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. last night (Thursday) saying the commissioners going to cut the trees down.”
Following that call Haas sent an email to Scioto County Prosecutor Mark Kuhn.
The email was obtained by the Daily Times and reads in part, “Apparently the county commissioners intend to cut trees in violation of city ordinances tomorrow (Friday). The penalty is $500 per tree, if I recall correctly. They have been informed by the city tree commission how this should be accomplished previously. My understanding is that they intended to ignore city officials.”
According to Haas, the email to Kuhn was to make him aware of the situation.
“I talked to Mark (Kuhn) this morning and thought everything was good. Then I heard they went ahead and cut them down,” Haas said.
Scioto County Commissioner Cathy Coleman along with other commissioners, Crabtree and Davis, said it was a safety concern and directed the trees to be removed.
Davis said the 85 year old woman injured her face and leg badly resulting in a trip to the hospital for treatment.
“We (commissioners) were notified of this yesterday (Thursday) at which point, we decided we needed to chop the trees down,” Davis said. “Before we did that I called Derek Allen yesterday evening, at which point he told me, he had a lot of things going on right now and trees was something that was not on the top of the list basically, and he gave me permission to chop the trees down.”
He said a crew of county employees took the trees down early Friday morning.
On Friday, an officer with the Portsmouth Police Department visited Scioto County Department of Job and Family Services, looking for the people that cut the trees down. It was uncertain if the officer intended to cite those involved if they were discovered.
Davis said he has received calls from members of the shade tree commission, threatening to cite the county for taking the trees down.
“I will not put trees above public safety in no way, shape, or form,” Davis said. “These trees are a public nuisance and they are a public safety hazard. The bottom line is, I went out and surveyed the property, it is a public safety issue. I will not put trees above people.”
Davis said the county has offered and will plant trees to replace the ones that were taken out, once all of the necessary work is complete.
“We did what we had to do to protect the public,” Davis said. “I don’t apologize for cutting them down, but we are doing the right thing for the public. We’re not going to stand by and let people get injured and we can’t have uneven sidewalks.”
Davis said all three commissioners have been in on the decision making and approved the action.
When asked about the possibility of citing the county for their actions, Haas said, “it’s either the replacement cost of the tree or $500 which ever is less.” He was uncertain if the city would take such actions. “I told Mark (Kuhn) I was not going to deal with it today. I’m going to talk to Mark Kuhn next week about it. It’s concerning that they knew they were not supposed to do that, but they did it anyway.”
Davis said this is not the first time someone has fallen on that sidewalk.
“We could not wait any longer and we are going to protect our citizens. I’m sorry if people get offended by that, but I’m not going to put a tree over a person and their well being,” Davis said.
Wayne Allen can be reached at 740-353-3101 ext. 1933 or @WayneAllenPDT