Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tree Roots Cracking Sewer Lateral?

This story from today's Marin IJ about the town where I live. My husband, urban forester Ray Moritz is quoted.  Will watch this case:

Town of Fairfax sued for planting tree; property owner says roots caused sewage spill

Planting a tree is good for the Earth; but it may not have turned out so well for the owner of a building in downtown Fairfax.

Russell Marne, a San Rafael lawyer representing the trust that owns the building at 1820 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., has sued the town of Fairfax, asserting that a town-planted tree caused a sewage spill on his client's property.

"The tree was planted right on top of the sewer lateral," Marne said. "So the tree grew down and smashed the sewer line. There was an over 200-gallon sewage spill on the downtown sidewalk."

The spill occurred in February in front of the building that houses the MINE Gallery on the ground floor and a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor. Some of the gallery's artwork was soiled, Marne said.

Ross Valley Sanitary District cleaned up the sewage. Randell Ishii, the district's engineer, confirmed that about 200 gallons was spilled; but Ishii said the district's report on the spill lacked the detail necessary for him to say what caused it.

Fairfax Town Manager Garrett Toy declined comment. "The town's policy is to not discuss any pending claims or litigation," Toy said.

Marne said that when the trust purchased the building it had been vacant for about a dozen years and was dilapidated. The trust restored the building, attempting to retain its historic character, he said.

He said the town of Fairfax had previously agreed to split the cost of repairing the sidewalk in front of the building; the sidewalk had been pushed up by the tree's roots.
"We wanted to make sure that tree comes out because it is the reason the sidewalk is busted up," Marne said. "It's a trip hazard."

Ed De Maestri, owner of De Maestri's Fairfax Garage and Auto Body, said he watched the town plant that tree and others along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in downtown Fairfax during the late 1970s. De Maestri said the trees were planted despite his objection.

"I don't like trees downtown; it's just my personal feeling," De Maestri said. "Because they block all the views of the downtown buildings."

Marne said the sidewalk has been pushed up all along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in downtown Fairfax due to the trees.

Fairfax, like many municipalities throughout the state, has specified in its town code that property owners are responsible for maintaining sidewalks adjacent to their property and bear the liability if anyone is injured by a damaged sidewalk.

Fairfax's town code, however, also states that "requirements of this section shall not apply with respect to any sidewalks damaged by any trees, shrubs, hedges and other landscaping installed and maintained by the town of Fairfax."

Marne said Fairfax planted the wrong kind of tree and neglected to install a cage around the tree's roots to control their growth.

Not all of the evidence falls on Marne's side of the ledger.

Ray Moritz, an arborist who operates Urban Forestry Associates in San Rafael, said, "For a tree to invade a sewer lateral, the sewer lateral has to be defective to start with. There has to be a crack, some way for the roots to get in there."

In addition, Moritz said the tree planted in front of the building at 1820 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. is a London plane tree, a hybrid of American sycamore, "which is very commonly used as a street tree because it has less invasive roots. It's a highly recommended street tree."

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