Oak tree causes controversy among commissioners

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By Kellie Van Maele
Ingham County Chronicle

INGHAM COUNTY- Cornell road, an area of natural beauty in Meridian Township, is home to approximately 450 trees, but one in particular is causing controversy. The 180-year-old oak tree is a part of the history of the scenic road, but its size is blocking the visibility of drivers.

“The tree is located on the corner of Cornell and Chaggal, a new road that leads to a developing subdivision,” County Commissioner Deb Nolan said. “Many people are concerned that the oak tree located on the corner is blocking visibility to drivers approaching the new street, but I don’t believe it is a concern or a threat to drivers. Rather than taking it down, we are asking for signage or even a speed bump.”

Although there are options to warn drivers of a potential loss of visibility, others say that the tree should be removed.
“My first concern when it comes to roads is public safety,” County Commissioner Randy Schafer said. “I believe in set policies and one of our policies is that drivers should always have a clear field of vision.”

Support for the tree has spread throughout the community and Michigan State University professor Leslie Kuhn decided to take a stance to try to preserve the tree.
In an email Kuhn wrote, “Cornell is a scenic beauty road, not a road slated for urbanization. If kept, it will stand as a living symbol of the beauty, history, natural heritage and vision of Ingham County.”

Kuhn’s efforts, along with the effort of 170 community members, caught the attention of Nolan.

“I agree in that the road is just gorgeous,” Nolan said. “It definitely deserves to remain a natural beauty road.”

To settle the controversy, Nolan proposed an idea to the 14 commissioners on Tuesday night.

“We are asking for a variance from what our road department standard practices would be,” Nolan said. “The normal practices would be to remove the tree.”

While a majority of 13 to 1 voted in support of the variance, commissioner Schafer’s concern for drivers’ safety did not waver.

“I know I was the only commission to vote against the proposal,” Schafer said, “but if I think I am right – I know I am right – that it’s a legitimate safety issue – then I do not deviate.”

The commissioners decided to leaf it at that.

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