TAMPA — An August ruling by a Hillsborough County judge that upheld the largest fine imposed by the city after dozens of trees were clear cut in South Tampa three years ago was a signal that Mayor Jane Castor wanted to send, she said at a news conference Monday.
The $234,428 fine levied against Miller and Sons LLC stemmed from its felling of 28 trees at a former trailer park on South Gandy Boulevard in August 2019. That happened shortly after a state law took effect that gutted the city’s tree ordinance, which had been a compromise between developers and tree advocates reached just months before.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Melissa M. Polo’s Aug. 23 order upheld a magistrate’s decision. Attorneys for Miller and Sons LLC didn’t immediately return a phone call requesting comment.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers amended the 2019 law to clarify that it only applied to single-family residential homes, according to a city fact sheet. Castor said that inspectors and code enforcement officers will aggressively enforce the law and require documentation showing how a proposed cutting meets state guidelines before a company starts its chainsaws.
“We feel very comfortable with our position, our ability to enforce the original plan that was written here in the city,” Castor said.
Tampa’s tree canopy is one of the nation’s finest, she said.
“Increasing our tree canopy and ensuring the health of our tree canopy is in our sustainability plan,” the mayor said.
Castor said the timing of the announcement — weeks after the judge ruled — didn’t have anything to do with a planned news conference on Monday by opponents of another aspect of the mayor’s environmental record. The so-called PURE project, a proposal to dump highly treated wastewater into the Hillsborough River, goes before the City Council on Thursday, and environmentalists have rallied in opposition to it.
The city also contacted an international regulatory body for arborists in an attempt to have Jonathan Lee, the arborist who signed off on the Gandy cut, punished. The International Society of Arboriculture sanctioned Lee, Castor said, but didn’t yank his license.
The city urges anyone who thinks they see an illegal tree-cutting to call 813-258-8733.