City tree damage

The city has had numerous claims from people whose cars were damaged by limbs and trees blown over by the Aug. 20 windstorm, such as this truck owned by Chris Blann. Generally, these claims are handled like ones for damage caused by potholes. If the city had no prior knowledge that the tree might be dying or that there might be dead limbs it has no liability. 

Courtesy photo

Two Lincoln residents whose cars were hit by falling tree limbs during the Aug. 20 windstorm will get some reimbursement from the city.

The city Law Department had denied both claims, contending the city did not have previous knowledge about the potential the tree limbs might fall.

But the City Council Monday night sent the two damage claims back after hearing testimony from two residents who said they or neighbors had notified the city they thought each tree was a problem.

The city doesn't seem to have a uniform system for tracking complaints, said Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm, and there was some report for each of the trees.

"I would be inclined to approve these two claims," said Lamm, adding she sensed the other council members agreed.

The council unanimously approved her suggestion to send the claims back to the Law Department to determine an appropriate reimbursement amount.

City Attorney Jeff Kirkpatrick had told the council the city is not legally responsible if it has no knowledge of the problem. The council has recently heard other tree damage claims, which the Law Department denied and the council accepted.

But in both cases Monday, residents had reported problems with each of the trees.

Chris Blann said he had called the city in the summer of 2016 about a tree that later totaled his truck during the August windstorm. The city responded to his complaint, but didn't take out all the dead branches. His neighbor said she had called several times about the same tree over the past five years, but the city didn't have any record of those calls.

In another case, Anne Romjue had requested a city-owned tree in front of her house be removed but the city forester determined it didn't need to be taken out, and dead branches in the tree did not need to be trimmed because they were not a danger.

The city doesn't have the money or staff to cut all the dead limbs from city-owned trees, Bob Weyhrich, city forester, told the council.

"We take care of the obvious," said Weyhrich. "Sixty percent of our trees have dead branches. They are only cut on a priority basis. We don't have enough manpower to take down every dead branch," he said.

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And the city is not responsible if a live branch falls from an otherwise healthy tree, Kirkpatrick said.

Many of the branches lost during the August windstorm were live branches, heavy with leaves, Weyhrich said.

"You get a lot of foilage. You get strong winds. It blows down limbs," he said.

There was also disagreement about whether the branch that hit Romjue's two cars was dead or alive.

City staff said the branch that fell on the two cars was a live branch. Romjue said she thought it was a dead branch.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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