An attorney for two brothers calls it "misguided overreach," but a Michigan township says it's a necessary move to keep local trees in place. All that Gary and Matt Percy know is they're now facing a possible fine of more than $450,000 after they cleared around 1,400 trees from their 16-acre lot in Canton Township to prep for a Christmas tree farm, MLive.com reports. The brothers say their land was filled with "invasive plants like phragmites, buckthorn, and autumn olive," and that it was necessary to clear it before bringing in their Christmas trees, per their attorney, Michael Pattwell. But the township says the brothers needed to get permission—especially for landmark or historic trees—and that now they have to pay a penalty and/or plant new trees. "It is a shockingly high fine for allegedly clearing a retired grazing pasture in an industrial area," Pattwell tells Watchdog.org.
The township had an arborist examine a piece of land near the Percy brothers' lot to figure out how many trees they allegedly took down. The tree expert estimated that the Percys had removed 1,385 trees with a trunk diameter of at least 6 inches (which would need an OK, per a township ordinance), at up to $300 a pop, as well as about 100 landmark trees worth about $450 each. A township attorney says the brothers were told twice over the past year they needed a permit to do the clearing. Part of the brothers' argument, however, is that there's an exemption in the ordinance that says "commercial nursery/tree farm operations" aren't required to "replace or relocate removed trees." "We believe strongly the township has abused its authority in order to punish a landowner unreasonably," Pattwell says. (An unusual Southern investment strategy involved planting trees.)