Pretty much nothing.
This happened to a neighbor, and I decided to look into it. I had an enlightening discussion with Asst. City Attorney Ronald Ramsingh. I had heard after Hurricane Georges in 1998 that some of the large ficuses that came down and damaged homes had been denied pruning, and sure enough, the pruning would have saved the tree and prevented the damage.
I never heard about anyone getting recompensed, nor even any regrets voiced by the tree commission. Now I know why.
It turns out our tree commission was created in Tallahassee for us because we are (blush) special. In two ways, I think. First, our tree canopy is spectacular, and deserves protection. Second, I surmise that the state does not think we can take care of it without their help.
So the rules creating and guiding our little local tree guys are handed down from on high. They are very specific. And they don’t give a damn whether a tree presents a hurricane danger.
It does matter if the tree is a present danger, in a number of ways. But they either didn’t think to worry about hurricanes, or—more likely—they thought that maybe half the trees in Key West conceivably could damage something, and a “possible hurricane damage” exception would be a loophole subjecting far too many trees to the chainsaw.
It turns out my neighbor’s only recourse would have been to appeal the tree commission’s decision to the city commissioners. I don’t know if this has ever happened for this specific cause. I doubt the commissioners would overrule their tree people.
This bothers me. I love our trees. I keep a huge one that is indeed a hurricane danger—it caused $30,000 damage in Wilma. We had not asked to have it trimmed. We live with the danger and could afford the repair.
But the fact that I love trees and can afford the luxury of keeping them full doesn’t mean I should shoulder my fellow citizens with legitimate fears of expensive damage. If I want their trees full, I as a citizen should help them pay for what I want.
I think that people who suffer hurricane damage from trees left full after they have made a documented request to the tree commission for hurricane trimming, are denied, and then indeed do suffer damage, should get at least partial restitution from my tax dollars. They should not by their bad luck have to subsidize my public good.
Just as we are now spending state and county money to buy ecologically important properties from landowners denied a chance to build, if we the people want something from our fellow private citizens, we owe them just compensation for what we get.