The Fort Smith Board of Directors tussled over voting on preliminary recommendations from the Animal Services Advisory Board (ASAB) and received a “crash course” on tree and power line conflicts Tuesday (Dec. 11).
The two items filled out the board’s noon study session at the Main Library on Rogers Avenue and began with a presentation from ASAB chairperson Nichole Morgan.
Morgan shared suggestions from the ASAB regarding recommended but incomplete changes to the city’s animal control ordinance, adding that it would “probably take one more of our two-hour meetings” to reach a consensus on finalization.
One of the delays for ASAB was further discussion and agreement on owner fines for first and second offenses when pets are picked up unattended.
City Director Philip Merry wished to provide incentives via fine reduction or waiver for offending owners who opt to have their pet spayed or neutered. Morgan believe fines need some kind of “weight” in order to be effective. She requested, and was granted, more time, to discuss the matter with the seven other members of the ASAB. But that did not stop Merry from motioning the proposed changes be added to the agenda “as is” for the regular meeting next Tuesday (Dec. 18). Director George Catsavis seconded.
“Why are we placing it on the agenda if they’re not completed?” asked Director Don Hutchings.
Director Kevin Settle reminded that “a document like this can be approved, but can always be altered or changed in the future.”
“There’s a huge body of work that’s been achieved here,” Merry said.
“I’m ready to get this over and done with,” Catsavis added. “We’ve talked about it for months and everybody’s wore out.”
Catsavis continued: “Like Kevin (Settle) said, we can always go back and adjust this. But I think this is a good deal, and I’m ready to get it over with. Everybody’s worked hard on this—the board and everybody—and I think this is a good compromise right now.”
“That’s very unusual, (to vote) for something that’s not completed,” Hutchings said.
Catsavis asked Morgan’s thoughts on the matter.
“I don’t feel right signing off on saying, ‘Yes, you guys move forward completely,’” Morgan said.
Nevertheless, the motion was not withdrawn and will come to a vote next Tuesday.
“My opinion is if the chairperson says this is what we need to do, then we need to give the chairperson what they’re asking for,” Settle said.
The full list of recommendations that were presented on Tuesday are available as a 25-page document within the study session meeting packet available on the city of Fort Smith website.
TREES AND LINES
On the issue of trees and power lines, Jarod Cassada, forester for Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. (OG&E), presented the board with an overview along with information on “responsible” tree planting in relation to utilities.
Cassada’s presentation addressed the company’s transmission upgrade project along N. 50th St., Free Ferry, N. 74th St., and Euper Lane, which drew ire from property owners and the governing body of the Museum of the Hardwood Tree.
In September Museum representative Bob Worley told The City Wire he was “disappointed” in OG&E’s actions.
“Cutting trees down is not good for the community or the planet, and shouldn’t be done unless it is absolutely necessary,” Worley said.
Dr. David Harper, DDS, of Harper Orthodontics and one of the affected property owners, agreed.
“They gave me notice, and they did pay me, but it’s not about the money,” Harper said. “I just don’t want the trees cut down. Free Ferry is a landmark street in the city and they’ve just butchered it. It’s a path of destruction through here. They’re removing 150-year old trees right and left and using no judgment whatsoever.”
On Tuesday Cassada reiterated what OG&E Community Affairs Manager Rob Ratley told The City Wire in September: that OG&E directives come from Little Rock-based Southwest Power Pool, a Regional Transmission Organization set up by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “to ensure reliable supplies of power, adequate transmission infrastructure, and competitive wholesale prices of electricity,” according to the organization’s website.
“I understand that businesses have to be profitable and do what is in their best interests,” said Director Pam Weber. “But a lot of people feel like their property has been devalued. So what I’m asking is, could you work with us in the future to do this in less populated areas? Not through the center of a neighborhood.”
Cassada expressed that OG&E would be willing to work with the city, but that moving the Free Ferry transmission upgrade project would have resulted in “significant” cost increases, which would likely have been passed on to customers, and would have resulted in the loss of “probably four times the number of trees that were removed in this 20-foot easement.”
According to a 2006 study from American Forests, Fort Smith is already at 13% tree canopy, less than half of the 40% that is recommended for good health and lower than Fayetteville (30%), Little Rock (27%), Van Buren (18%) and Jonesboro (17%).