Landfill tree permit felled by council [UPDATED]Published 8:22pm Monday, June 4, 2012 Updated 10:41am Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Local artist Jay McDougall’s hopes of continuing to harvest trees from the Fergus Falls landfill for his artwork went through the chipper on Monday, as the city council voted 5-3 against creating a permit for “legacy tree artists” to salvage logs from the dump.
Things had been looking up for McDougall, who was banned recently from collecting wood from the landfill after years of doing so. His pleas to the council in February led to aldermen asking city staff to work with McDougall in an attempt to come up with a permitting process that addressed city concerns of liability, safety and an influx of people seeking salvage access. Though Public Works Director Anne Martens maintained her recommendation to disallow McDougall’s access, the public works and safety committee passed such a permit 2-1 on May 30.
That was its last success. Jim Fish, Pat Connelly (the two committee members who approved of the permit originally) and JoEllen Thacker voted in favor of the new permit, but the rest of the aldermen went the other way.
The disapproving council members cited consistency as a key reason why they couldn’t accept the permitting process. They were concerned that the narrow parameters of the permit could be construed as favoritism toward McDougall, and that others who wanted access to the landfill (to salvage scrap metal or firewood, for example), would point to the tree artist permit as a fairness issue.
“You kind of in my opinion, have to say it’s OK for anybody that would meet the criteria to do this and we say people can go in the dump as long as they’re safe, or we say nobody should do this,” said Jay Cichosz. He later added that the constraints of the permit were such to make him think, “I have the Jay McDougall permitting process in front of me because I can’t think of anybody else in this town that going to meet (these) criteria.”
Eric Shelstad agreed, noting that he had changed his mind from originally being in favor of the permit. Concerns about the potential spread of tree diseases, as well as safety, liability, fairness, and the time burden of staff to regulate the permit caused him to reconsider.
“I think it’s opened the door to a big can of worms,” said Scott Rachels.
Connelly and Thacker spoke in favor of the permit, with Thacker citing the city’s arts commitment and Connelly noting that the permits could be revoked at any time for any reason if problems arise.
“I think we do have a little bit of a diff community here and the arts are strong, and I’ll be voting in favor of it just because of that,” Thacker said.
After the vote, McDougall and his wife Cindy (herself a visual artist) voiced their frustration to the council before leaving abruptly. Cindy said that the council failed to take into account Jay’s expertise on wood handling, diseases, and other related matters, and called the decision a result of failed communication between the city of Fergus Falls and other entities with local and national ties who were in favor of his continued landfill access.
“It’s very, very difficult to be proud of a city that doesn’t understand the legacy that we leave,” she said.
Jay also accused the council of failing to see the big picture, reminding them that he promotes the city all around the country.
“This is a legacy for Fergus Falls, and I’ll just take my business elsewhere, and this was an opportunity for you to be part of something bigger,” he said.