Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Local municipalities grapple with legislature’s attempt to curtail tree-removal regulations

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. ––– Some local municipalities are opposing a bill that would take away local governments’ power to regulate tree removal without express statutory authority. 

The Town of Oak Island passed a resolution opposing the bill earlier this month. Bald Head Island Village Council approved adopting a similar resolution Friday; the Town of Kure Beach is set to vote on opposing the legislation Monday. 

RELATED: Oak Island to oppose bill that would strip local governments’ power to regulate tree removal

Unlike the Brunswick County towns, New Hanover County and municipalities within it need not worry; in 1987, the legislature already granted New Hanover County, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, Carolina Beach, and Kure Beach the authority to regulate tree removal within their jurisdictions.

“While we have been monitoring the bill, based on our reading it would have minimal or no impact to the county, as it doesn’t enact a repeal of previously adopted ordinances authorized by local acts,” county intergovernmental affairs manager Tim Buckland wrote in an email Friday. 

Backed by the N.C. Homebuilders Association, the bill would not impact about 50 jurisdictions with specific statutory approval to regulate tree removal. For the communities that hadn’t yet obtained permission through the legislature, tree-removal ordinances would not be permitted, should the bill pass. 

So far, the bill advanced through the House down party lines, picking up favorable votes from local Republican Representatives Charlie Miller (R-Brunswick, New Hanover), Frank Iler (R-Brunswick), and Ted Davis (R-New Hanover).

While New Hanover is in the clear, the legislation may impact surrounding communities; Pender and Brunswick counties’ spokespeople could not immediately clarify whether the counties had an exemption on the books. Brunswick County’s spokesperson said they weren’t aware of the county taking any position on the bill at this time.

Oak Island’s nearly all-Republican town council (with one unaffiliated councilmember) unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the bill on June 8. “The ability to shape the character of the public community should rest as locally as it can,” town counsel Brian Edes said before council cast their votes. 

Southport’s Mayor Dr. Joe Hatem told residents in a special community address on June 8 the bill doesn’t affect the city; Rep. Miller informed Hatem the city is covered under a 1975 exemption. “The trees of our city provide a backdrop on mother natures’ canvas,” he said. 

Brunswick County currently has regulations discouraging clear-cutting and requires heritage trees to be preserved in a proposed landscaping or buffer area. Pender County requires significant trees to be replaced by planting two trees of the same species. 

Though it won’t be relevant for Carolina Beach, town manager Bruce Oakley said he was confident council “is against any legislation that takes local control away on any issue.”

Tony McEwen, assistant to the city manager for legislative affairs for Wilmington, said the tree-removal legislation is recurring. “This thing keeps popping up over and over and over again unfortunately,” he said. “If my memory serves, it’s basically popped up in every session.”

Attempts to limit local control have percolated through the General Assembly for several years, McEwen said, but have since cooled off. “It has been one of the more prominent themes of the legislature for several years now,” he said. “[A] lot of the energy behind that type of thing is gone.”

“I think philosophically, the city would oppose this,” he said.

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