Trees and Storm Damage – Who’s Responsible: Whenever there’s a storm, the City typically receives inquiries from residents about how to handle fallen trees or tree branches. In some cases, debris clean-up is the responsibility of the City of Kirkwood. In other instances, it is the responsibility of the homeowner. Here’s a quick cheat sheet on how to tell which is which.
Responsibility for clean-up mostly depends on where the tree is located. If a tree located on City property, in the “right-of-way,” falls during a storm, the City of Kirkwood will come out, remove the fallen tree, and clean up the mess. If the tree is on private property and not in the City’s right-of-way, it is the homeowner’s or property owner’s responsibility to remove and dispose of the tree and debris.
So what exactly is City property? City property, or the right-of-way (ROW), is typically the land or space located between the curb and the sidewalk. When there’s no sidewalk, the ROW may extend into the front yard of the property (see photo). There are a couple ways to find out exactly. First, a homeowner can refer to the title drawing they received when they purchased the property. Second, homeowners can view ROW drawings on the City’s GIS map, located on the City Website (click here). Select the “Kirkwood Basemap.” This is an interactive map, with several tools. To use it, first select “aerial” at the top, and then find your street (you can move the map around with your mouse, just as with Google maps). Then use the zoom tool on the left to zoom in. The red lines on the map show approximately where the ROW is on your property.
Street Clean-Up: When limbs or debris from an intact tree on private property fall into the street in the City, the property owner is responsible for disposal of the debris. Kirkwood crews will clear the street and move the debris onto the homeowner’s property for disposal. In some instances, where storm damage is wide-spread and the costs will be reimbursed through federal and state agencies such as FEMA, Kirkwood’s City Council may decide to clean up and dispose of debris, but City crews are otherwise not authorized to dispose of storm-related debris on private property.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A UTILITY EASEMENT?
Utility easements and the City’s right-of-way are two different things, although they are somewhat similar in nature. Easements are areas on private property that are set aside for access and construction of overhead and underground utility equipment. Although there may be poles, wires, underground pipes or wires located in or on an easement, the property is still owned by the homeowner.
Trees located in an easement are therefore located on private property and are the responsibility of the homeowner. During normal operating conditions, a utility may trim a tree in an easement and remove any debris associated with that process to keep it clear from any overhead wires or equipment. However, the homeowner is responsible for removal of the tree or any debris associated with that tree if Mother Nature causes the tree or any of its limbs to fall. Tree trimming related to storm-damaged trees and performed by City employees is limited to clearing the line and electrical equipment so that repairs can be made, but the disposal of storm damage is the responsibility of the homeowner.
Electric Service Wiring: The wires connecting your house from the poles and wires located along the backyard fence line are called the electric service drops. Electric service drops are found on private property and are the property of the homeowner. Consequently, any trees impacting the electrical service drop are on private property and are the responsibility of the homeowner. Tree trimming for the line clearance for electrical service drops as well as the removal and disposal of any brush or trees associated with operations to maintain that drop are the responsibility of the homeowner.
The responsibilities associated with trees and storm damage debris can be confusing and a source of frustration during challenging periods. The key is to focus on the location of the tree. If you know the owner of the property, you’ve got a handle on the responsible party for disposal of problems caused by severe weather.