HARRISVILLE -- Some property owners soon will be receiving a letter notifying them that they will have to pay damages for their trees that have cracked or heaved city sidewalks.
The city is sending letters to about 13 property owners, said Bill Morris, city administrator.
Some residents will need to remove the trees, while others will only need to cut the tree roots that grow under the sidewalk, he said.
It will cost those property owners anywhere from $84 to tear out and replace one 4-by-4-foot block of sidewalk to $2,400 to cut down and remove a tree. If a tree were only to have the roots cut, and it died, the city would be liable if that tree were to fall and hurt someone or damage property, Morris said.
This is not a new regulation, he said. Every city in Utah requires anyone who damages public property to pay for it. Each situation here will be handled on a case-by-case basis, he said.
It's part of a natural cycle for the tree roots to break down the concrete. Tree roots can find any crack in any concrete or rock, then grow and expand. If the root can't go around an obstacle, it will go through it. Then breaks and cracks get worse with the winter freeze and spring thaw until, finally, the sidewalk is broken.
Gene Bingham, city public works director, said the efforts were motivated by public safety as well as insurance companies.
"Some of these sidewalks are next to schools. One person was seriously injured, and I felt terrible about it," he said.
Ordinances may not be the same in all cities, Bingham said, adding that not every property owner everywhere will be required to remove trees and repair sidewalks.
"This is a difficult, emotional situation," he said.
As time goes on, it's inevitable that more sidewalks will crack as trees grow larger. One Harrisville resident had a row of identical maples on the frontage property, and only one of the trees was pushing up the sidewalk.
Another property owner had a big cottonwood on the front lawn that had heaved up the sidewalk a good 4 inches.
"I understand their perspective of it being a safety issue, but it's kind of a big expense for the homeowner," said Ashlee Urry, 648 W. 2300 North.
Urry, who has a pine tree moving the sidewalk up about an inch, also wondered how high is too high. At what point does the city feel a sidewalk could be a danger to the community?
"Whatever constitutes a tripping hazard. What would a reasonable person consider a tripping hazard?" Morris said in a later interview. "The law is clear on this."
It's difficult to say which people might trip. Many people move around the neighborhoods, including those who are visually impaired, skateboarders, inline skaters, parents pushing strollers, bicyclists and people who use wheelchairs or walkers.
Logan Lefler, owner of Lefler Tree Services in Harrisville, said he never gives estimates on how much it might cost to take down a tree until he sees the situation. There are too many factors, such as how close the tree is to a house, how tall the tree is and how dense the wood might be, he said.
"Never say a price for any tree unless you're standing under it," Lefler said.
Those planting a tree should put it at least 6 feet away from the sidewalk, he said.
After digging the hole and before planting the tree, place a black PVC pipe with holes about 2 feet underneath where the new tree's roots will be, Lefler said. If the tree gets watered through that black pipe, the tree will establish a tap root. That means the tree will be less likely to have roots climbing across the top of the ground as it seeks water.