County Council Approves ‘Albizia Bill’
A bill that would allow the county to clear lots of “unsafe flora” – and bill the owner for the cost – received final approval Wednesday in a 9-0 vote by the County Council.
Bill 64, introduced by Councilman Zendo Kern, is based on a current section of the Hawaii County Code that allowed the county to clear unoccupied lots of refuse or undergrowth that “is likely to become a fire, health or crime hazard.”
The bill expands that law to include occupied lots, and adds unsafe flora to the list of potential problems.
Unsafe flora is defined as “any part of a tree, bush, vine or grass” that poses an imminent danger to persons or adjacent property or structures.
The “danger” could take the form of fire, health, safety, property damage or criminal threat, the bill said.
The measure has been dubbed the “Albizia Bill” after the fast-growing, non-native tree which has taken over wide swaths of the Big Island’s windward side. The trees are relatively brittle, with broken branches and split trunks often resulting from strong winds.
The ordinance is triggered when either an abutting land owner, or a majority of owners within a radius of 500 feet, make a written request to the mayor to investigate the situation.
If the mayor deems the situation to be dangerous, a notice would be issued to the owner of that property to remedy the matter. If the landowner fails to do so within 30 days, the county can undertake the clearing and bill the landowner for the cost.
If the landowner fails to pay the bill, the county can place a lien on the property and also file a civil suit to recover the expenses.
The bill also allows an exception for “exceptional trees,” those designated by the county to have historical or cultural value. Another exemption is granted for trees used as a wind block, boundary marker or for ornamental purposes if they were already in place before a nearby building was constructed.
It also allows a landowner to keep the offending tree if an agreement can be reached on a “treatment plan” that removes the danger.
The bill now goes to Mayor Billy Kenoi for his consideration.