Gardner woman hits dead end with dead tree removal

Gardner, Grundy officials deny responsibility for ailing ash tree

Vicki Webster has just about had enough.

Webster, a resident of Gardner for 13 years, has been trying to get an ash tree in front of her house removed by local government since it died during the summer of 2016.

Neither village or County governments can agree on whose job it is to get it done.

Webster said it’s not for cosmetic reasons that she wants the dead tree gone.

“[The tree] hangs over a power line and during the storm last winter a huge branch broke off and fell in the road. It could have cut the line or smashed a passing car’s windshield or hit a kid on the sidewalk,” Webster said.

The tree in question lies on government property on the north side of Main Street in Gardner, which is also Grundy County’s Gardner Road. The duality of being a Gardner street and a county road is the source of local government’s disagreement, as well as Webster’s frustration.

According to Webster, she first reached out to Gardner Mayor Mike Serena about the tree during the summer of 2016. This was followed by two letters to the mayor and three calls to village hall in 2017, a call to Grundy County in 2018, and an appearance at a village board meeting in 2019.

Both Gardner and Grundy officials said the same thing: It’s the other person’s job.

"The tree lies on Grundy County property because it's a county road. We have an agreement with Grundy where we take care of plowing our portion of the road in the winter, but that agreement doesn't cover tree
removal," Serena said. "We'd be
happy to lend a hand with the removal, but it's just not our property and we can't just stroll onto someone else's property and take something down."

This opinion is at odds with the assessment of Grundy County Assistant State’s Attorney Kyle Klukas.

“Gardner is responsible for removing the dead tree. We ran into a similar disagreement two years ago when Gardner put in new sidewalks along the road and asserted that the county needed to maintain them,” Klukas said. “The Illinois Commerce Commission ruled in our favor and decided it’s Gardner’s responsibility to maintain the area around the road.”

However, here’s where all that gets technical.

The intergovernmental agreement Serena cited was signed in August 2012. It states that the road remains county property and that the county will be responsible for upgrading the road as needed at their jurisdiction.

The agreement also states “The county will not provide any routine right-of-way maintenance activities such as mowing, cleaning of storm sewers, sign erection or replacement, roadway stripping or the placement of other pavement markings to said section of road.”

According to the agreement, those duties rest with the village – and the village cannot hold the county liable for any litigation that stems from poor maintenance of those responsibilities.

The case that Klukas cited is
T15-0083 Gardner v. Grundy County, which was finalized Oct. 12, 2017. Both government entities could not agree whose job it was to maintain a new sidewalk on the north side of the road near the railroad tracks.

The Illinois Commerce Commission ruled that because Gardner installed the sidewalk and Gardner residents will use the sidewalk more often than the 97 percent of the county’s population – who live elsewhere – the sidewalk’s maintenance is the village’s responsibility.

Neither of the two documents mention the word “tree.”

Webster said she ultimately believes that Gardner is responsible, but she’s disappointed that both parties couldn’t just pick up the phone and work something out.

“What drives me nuts is that the agreement says they would work together, but they’re doing the opposite. They’re pointing fingers and saying don’t bother us, it’s someone else’s job,” Webster said.

Webster said she’s done all she can and won’t press the matter any longer, but she’s afraid of the damage the tree could do if it falls onto her house or someone passing by.

When reached for comment, Serena maintained his belief that the tree is the county’s responsibility and that he will bring the matter up at the next village board meeting. He also said he’s willing to work with the county to find a solution.