Two brothers in Michigan are facing a $450,000 fine for cutting down more than 1,400 trees on their property without getting permission from their township.
Gary and Matt Percy own 16 acres of property in Canton Township and had intended to create a Christmas tree farm on their property, but the township had other ideas.
Even though the land had “invasive plants like phragmites, buckthorn and autumn olive” growing on it, the township insisted that the two brothers ask the township for permission and promise to plant new trees before cutting down existing ones, Michael J. Pattwell, the attorney for the Percy brothers, told M Live.
“This case is about misguided overreach. It is unavoidably about whether people who own property are allowed to use it … We contend the Percy brothers exercised a farming exemption in the local tree removal law to clear the historic pasture behind their business and develop a Christmas tree farm,” Pattwell said.
The township’s attorney, Kristin Kolb, disagreed, saying the township told the brothers “at least twice last year” that they needed a permit to get rid of the trees.
“[They] never came and got one,” Kolb said.
Kolb added that the trees removed were “all part of a forest.” The township hired an arborist to compare the land to a property with similar forestry to provide an estimate on the number of trees removed.
“They identified certain plots,” Kolb said. “They identified the number or type of trees and did some math to figure out approximately how many trees.”
The arborist said an estimated 1,385 trees were removed, meaning the town could fine the brothers $225 to $300 for each tree removed. The township also estimated an additional 100 trees designated as “landmark” or historic trees, which have a higher price tag of $450 per tree.
Although the township has not yet fined the brothers, Pattwell asked the township for an estimate on the settlement — which totaled $450,000.
Kolb said the brothers could reduce their fine if they agree to pay money towards the township’s fund for planting trees or plant new trees on the property. Pattwell, however, said the brothers were exempt from the fine because their property can be classified as an “agricultural/farming operation” under the township’s ordinance.
The Percy brothers are looking at their options, which include paying money into a tree fund or planting replacement trees, but they are prepared to take the issue to court if necessary.