Colfax follows ordinance and declines assistance for homeowner with sewer repair, tree removal

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  A motion allowing the Colfax Village Board to circumvent an ordinance has been defeated, and the village will not provide financial assistance for a homeowner to repair the sewer lateral and cut down trees in the boulevard.

Sarah and Jordan Teele, 610 East River Street, spoke to the village board at the July 23 meeting about trees on the boulevard by their home. Tree roots have infiltrated the sewer lateral and have caused sewer backups in homes down the street from their residence.

Four trees are growing in the boulevard and are over the water line and the sewer line, Jordan Teele said.

The tree roots are causing the curb and the street to collapse and are causing the sidewalk to heave and to crack. The trees must be removed, he said.

The trees are mature maple trees, and they will continue to cause problems, Teele said.

According to a letter to the village from the Teeles dated July 19, Sarah and Jordan Teele were asking for assistance with the repair cost of the sewer lateral and for removal of all the trees on the boulevard.

From the letter, it was not clear whether the Teeles were asking for assistance with removing the trees only along their property or if they were asking for the removal of all of the trees on the boulevard along East River Street.

The trees were planted in 1958 after the tornado and were planted as a gift from the Village of Colfax, said Sarah Teele.

The heaving of the sidewalk due to the tree roots would make access difficult for someone with a disability, she said.

The village’s ordinance states the property owner is responsible for the cost of the repair of the sewer lateral, said Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer.

The trees follow the same rule: if they are in the boulevard, then they are the property owner’s responsibility, she said.

An estimate of $5,414 was included in the village board packet for repair of the sewer lateral from H&H Plumbing.

The H&H estimate included a street opening allowance of $2,500.

The village board recently approved charging the full cost to the homeowner of repairing the curb, the gutter and the street that occurs because of repair or maintenance of the sewer lateral or the water lateral.

The cost of “street opening” for the repair of the lateral to the Teele home could be more or less than $2,500, depending on how much of River Street must be excavated.

Farther down on the agenda at the July 23 meeting, the Colfax Village Board approved an ordinance amendment to Section 9-2-11 to charge the full repair cost to the property owner if streets must be dug up during repair of sewer or water laterals.

Ordinance

The village’s ordinance about trees and boulevards seems somewhat confusing.

In one section of Chapter 6, Section 6-4-5 (b) (2), the ordinance states boulevards are public property.

In another section, 6-4-6 (A), the ordinance states if a tree has become public nuisance, and if the abatement of the tree is ordered by the direction of the village forester and is on public premises, the cost will be paid by the village — except if the tree is located in the boulevard (the terraced strip between the lot line and the curb), then the boulevard is considered private property, and the property owner must pay the cost of taking down the tree.

So in other words, in one section of the ordinance, the boulevard is considered public property, but in another section of the ordinance, the boulevard is considered private property.

The ordinance also uses the terms boulevard and “terraced strip between the lot line and curb” interchangeably.

Another section of the ordinance referring to the planting of trees and shrubs states that one year after trees are planted, during which time the person who planted the tree must guarantee the good health of the tree, the trees become the property of the village.

The section talking about nuisance trees appears to be talking about trees that could fall on a house or in the street or pose a hazard to someone walking along the sidewalk.

The references to abatement refer to diseased trees, either affected by fungus or insects, or more specifically, trees infected with Dutch Elm disease.

The only place “sewer” is mentioned in Chapter 6 of the ordinances is in Section 6-4-7(d) and is in reference to restricting the planting of certain trees. Catalpa, Chinese elm, white poplar, weeping willow, evergreen, Lombardy poplar or any fruit or nut tree cannot be planted in the boulevard unless the property owner has written permission from the village forester. The village forester cannot approve the planting of the listed trees if, in his or her opinion, the tree will interfere with the safety of the public or the operation of any sewer or water system.

That section of the ordinance does not reference the planting of any other kinds of trees in the boulevard.

The next section of the ordinance, 6-4-7 (e)(1) (a), however, states all “new street trees” must be selected from a list of approved trees compiled by the village forester.

The village’s forester position is shared by Niggemann and Village Trustee Margaret Burcham.

Sidewalks

The village does have a cost-sharing program for replacing sidewalks, Niggemann said.

The sidewalk repair is added into the budget for the following year, and then on a 60-40 split, the village will pay 40 percent of the cost and the property owner will pay 60 percent of the cost, she said.

Gary Stene, village president, suggested the village board could take the request of financial assistance from Sarah and Jordan Teele under advisement, look at the trees, and then put the item on the agenda again next month.

Anne Jenson, village trustee, noted the village board had addressed a similar problem last year when a tree had been damaged by lightning and the village board ended up splitting the cost of removing the tree 50-50 because of a misunderstanding about removing the tree.

The cost of removal should have been the property owner’s responsibility, Jenson said.

When people want to plant trees, they also have to contact the village prior to planting, Niggemann said.

Other laterals

Three other sewer laterals in the village need to be replaced, and in the case of two others that were replaced, the village has not shared the cost, Niggemann said.

Margaret Burcham asked if when the Teeles purchased the property whether a property inspector had talked about the potential problems with the trees.

Jordan Teele said the inspector had not talked about the trees.

Burcham said an inspector had talked about the concerns related to trees prior to the purchase of their property.

Carey Davis, village trustee, said if the ordinance did not accomplish what the village board would like to accomplish, the ordinance should be changed.

Other property owners have had the same issues and have taken care of the problems themselves, he said.

Davis said he understood why the Teeles were coming to the village board but that his answer would be “no.”

Village Trustee Mark Halpin said he believed there would be more issues of a similar nature in the future, and that while it is easy to say “take care of it,” the trees in question were planted in 1958.

Jenson noted she had recently taken three trees down on her property, and she understood about the cost.

“We have ordinances for a reason,” she said.

A motion to not follow the ordinance and do further investigation failed on a vote of four to three.

Halpin made the motion, and the motion was seconded by David Wolff.

Voting in favor of the motion were Halpin, Wolff and Stene. Voting against the motion were Davis, Jenson, Margaret Burcham and Keith Burcham.

Other business

In other business, the Colfax Village Board:

• Approved a training request for Sheila Riemer, deputy clerk-treasurer, to attend Regional Utility Management September 27 in Plover.

• Approved bartender operator’s licenses, in effect through June 30, 2019, for Katherine Walters (American Legion Post 131), Thomas Dunbar (American Legion Post 131), and Leslie Burcham (Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center).

• Approved a temporary picnic license for the Colfax Woman’s Club August 3 for the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center pig roast.

• Approved paying an additional $210 (for a total of $420) for the port-a-potties at the Colfax Free Fair due to a misunderstanding about the original request from the Colfax Fair Board. 

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