1. Home
  2. /
  3. Featured
  4. /
  5. Older Trees, Stronger Storms:...

Older Trees, Stronger Storms: Who Is Responsible?

Christine Whelan FEO, September 14, 2023, VOL. 5 ISSUE 1

Two residents on Emerick Avenue, Fort Erie, have recently learned the hard way that residents of Fort Erie are responsible for reporting any signs of distress coming from all trees around their homes, whether a tree is on their property or the Town’s property.

As Hackett posted on his Facebook Group, Fort Erie – “Our Town”, on June 26, his neighbour’s tree broke from the high winds and “ripped the hydro stack” right off his house, just missing a car.

I met with Al and Janet on Emerick Avenue a few weeks ago.

“We had a really big windstorm. I had a tree at the end of my property,” Janet pointed towards the front of her property. “The wind brought down a large branch from that tree and it fell right across the driveway. It knocked down power lines, knocked all the wires out of my power box, as well as Al’s.” Both Al and Janet couldn’t get out of their driveways.

After a friend of Al’s came to clear just enough so they could get out, the Canadian Niagara Power but nothing could be done because an electrician was needed to fix both power boxes. Both power boxes were old and parts were no longer available.

For the power boxes to be replaced, both Byers and Hackett had to pay their amounts in total, which were sizable amounts, upfront.

Teacher To The Rescue

After seeing his posts about the circumstance on Facebook, Al’s Grade 8 teacher, now retired, Janet Uhrin, contacted Al and acted quickly. She paid his bill.

Hackett couldn’t say enough about his former teacher coming forward. He is filled with gratitude.

I spoke with Al’s former teacher on the phone. “I saw his Facebook post and I thought, I’m going to go down there.” She said she took her checkbook.

“I couldn’t see him without hydro and losing everything in his freezer.”

Uhrin is also left with questions. “So, if we are responsible for keeping an eye on the trees, are we supposed to call every time a branch comes down? When are we supposed to report? Which trees are the Town’s?”.

Whose Tree Is It?

A Town official came out the next day and determined that it was indeed the Town’s responsibility to take it down and the remainder of the tree came down.

Byers said Town Councillor, George McDermott came to see the tree, “He suggested both Al and I submit our claim to the Town. So, we both did that.”

The adjuster called them to say they weren’t going to be considered for reimbursement. The reasoning given to Janet was that she never made any complaints about the tree in the past.

To this, Janet’s response is, “But, I’m not an arborist.”

The Letters

Janet received a letter from the independent adjuster who handles claims for the Town of Fort Erie. He was following up on their phone discussion.

The letter stated that, after concluding their investigations, “There have been no prior issues, work orders or complaints filed to the Town in regards to this particular tree.” And therefore, “the Town of Fort Erie would have no way of preventing or anticipating this loss from occurring” and “would not be held liable for damages”.

Byers replied to Atkinson with a letter,  providing the adjuster with reasons why she disagreed with this decision. She included that the incident occurred, “during the course of the violent storm June 26, 2023” and went on to explain the damage.

She called it an act of God that was completely out of her control. Her letter continues, “The tree in question was located on Town property. It is the Town’s responsibility to maintain the health and safety of all town trees on a regular basis.”

Janet noted in the letter how the trees are over 100 years old and are now having to withstand frequent, unprecedented storms.

“I am not an arborist and therefore, I do not have a background in the care and maintenance of trees.”

More About The Trees

Byers continued about the age of the tree. “If anyone would take a look, especially in the north end of town, all the trees appear to be planted around the same time,” noting that all the trees are in a line.

She added they would have been planted more than 100 years ago, showing me an old photo of her dad in the front of the house with the young tree when he was about three or four years old. If he was living today, he’d be 108. “So, the tree had to be at least 105 years old.”

Janet added, in her opinion, “Any arborist should be aware of that. With this being the older part of town, maybe the Town should keep a closer watch on these trees.”

We talked about a tree that was right across the street from Al and Janet that came down just two weeks after theirs.

Al commented with concern, “And there are kids over there.”

He pointed over to another tree across the street that had a large branch sticking out. “I’m concerned about a kid getting hit by that one.”

Al has been driving around town, taking photos of trees, standing and fallen. He discovered a tree that had fallen on a home at the beginning of Niagara Boulevard.

Since Councillor McDermott had visited after the tree branch fell at the Emerick Avenue houses, I decided to connect with him to see if he could shine a light on some of the questions that were left with these residents. In response, he reached out to Chris McQueen, Chief Administrative Officer of the Town of Fort Erie, with my request.

The CAO, through the councillor, informed:

“The Town has an arborist on staff and a large inventory of trees across the Town (in parks and on road allowances). The Town will respond to requests to inspect trees or survey them to determine if a tree is on town property or private property.  If a Town tree is identified as a potential issue, it will undergo a more detailed inspection and the Town will take action as necessary, including trimming or tree removal (as required).

“Insurance – the Town relies on our insurance program to evaluate claims (on our behalf) and advise on whether there is coverage or not under our insurance.  Similarly, property owners are required to determine their own coverage for issues related to any damage from trees (whether they are Town or private trees).  These claims are evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine if or how much the Town’s insurance might cover.

“The determination of whether a tree is on Town property or private property depends on the property boundary – so there’s no simple way to determine that without surveying the property boundary and location of the tree.”

Councillor McDermott recommends to Fort Erie residents, “Always be aware of the environment around you. If you think a tree that is by you won’t withstand the next storm, it’s best to call the arborist the get it checked.

So, it appears a collaboration is required. The Town is asking all residents of the Greater Fort Erie area to spend some time with the trees that surround them. Take notice if they see any signs of distress.

So, Fort Erie, give your trees a little TLC. And if you notice there’s an issue, who you gonna call?

The Town Arborist.

The Town of Fort Erie wants to hear about a tree in need. 905-871-1600

Photo provided by Allan Hackett

There are no upcoming events at this time.