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Nearly 700 trees could be felled at hot water golf course | News

PEABODY — City officials are considering the possibility of hefty fines, remediation orders and even eliminating property tax breaks after learning that the Salem Country Club felled nearly 700 trees without telling anyone in the city.

While the club’s general manager and chief operating officer, Peter Fischl, said it “takes full responsibility” for the unauthorized work, members of the city’s conservation committee said they had all heard of it before.

“I’m sorry to say, but you guys are habitual repeaters,” committee vice-chairman Michael Rizzo said at a contentious two-hour meeting on Wednesday night when the board voted to issue an enforcement order against the club.

“You should be ashamed,” Rizzo continued, suggesting he thinks the commission should consider daily fines retroactive to January for unauthorized work.

Committee members will head to the golf course on Monday afternoon for a field trip, where they can see which areas of the golf course have had 683 trees felled over a two-week period in December and January.

The city’s conservation agency had previously been told it would remove about 20 dead trees.

Club engineers from Weston and Sampson told the meeting that of the 683 trees, 205 were within the Conservation Council’s jurisdiction. Areas the committee will oversee include buffer zones and wetlands.

Engineers said a little more than half of those trees, 116, were in an area where the club had regular ground maintenance, leading them to believe the removal of the trees was allowed.

The club believes that the remaining trees are not within the jurisdiction of the committee.

But while that may somewhat mitigate any action taken by the Preservation Commission, the city council approved a request from Councilman Anne Manning-Martin earlier this month for the city’s attorneys, assessors and treasurers to investigate unresolved issues. Whether authorised work will result in the club’s 75 per cent reduction in property tax each year is at stake.

This reduction is granted under state laws designed to encourage the preservation of open space.

“They benefit from those trees they kill,” Manning-Martin said Friday.

She and several conservation council members also said they believe golf courses need to be held to the same standards as any home or business owner in the city.

“They need to be held accountable, just like the average homeowner,” Manning-Martin said.

The executive order, approved by the committee on Wednesday, will require clubs to make a formal wetland demarcation of the affected area and pay the city to hire its own experts to review the demarcation – but the committee said it will consider additional requests in the future.

“He’s going to be fined, Salem Country Club is going to be fined, everybody’s going to be fined to the max,” committee alternate Amanda Green said at the end of the hearing, where board members turned to tree services before being ordered to stop. Hundreds of trees were felled over a two-week period in December and January.

“Have you thought maybe you need to talk to someone in town?” committee alternate RitaMarie Cavicchio asked Dan Mayer, owner of Mayer Tree Service.

Mayer said he didn’t know the work would take place in a protected buffer zone or that a forest management plan might also be required.

Mayer said that when his company was hired, he relied on the owner to obtain all permits. “We implicitly trust them,” he said.

But commissioners said they had long been frustrated by the club’s actions, including cutting down trees in 2017 to build a paved car park for the Professional Golf Championship “Senior Open” – which is still open five years later.

They also expressed doubts about why the trees were cut down.

Committee member Arthur Athas asked if the Fischl club was changing course. Venue directors insist they just want to improve existing conditions.

Fischl told the board, “If trees compete with grass, trees win every time.”

Committee member Bruce Comak said that as a golfer, he understands the need to maintain the greens.

“I play golf a lot, and Salem Country Club is an asset to the city of Peabody,” Cormac said. “It’s blatant, though. I don’t care what Salem Country Club says…everyone at Salem Country Club knows what’s going on in our jurisdiction.”

“It’s a mockery for the committee,” he continued. “Every time, you come here begging forgiveness, not permission. Everyone knows very well what they’re doing beforehand.”

Court reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis

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