Local governments would not necessarily gain any new powers, but a measure from a local legislator will highlight the state government’s commitment to trees potentially impacted by new development, the patron said.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) this session shepherded legislation through the General Assembly adding preservation of mature trees, as well as the planting of new trees, to the list of activities that the State Water Resources Board is directed to encourage local governments to consider when addressing development in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
The measure “is more a policy statement than anything else,” Hope acknowledged. “But it does send a clear signal to local governments that tree preservation is a legitimate tool to improve water quality and to protect the Chesapeake Bay, and one in which local governments should consider in their plans.”
The measure – HB504 – passed the House of Delegates on a 69-30 vote after committee amendments were agreed to, then passed the state Senate, 26-10.
Gov. Northam on March 12 sent the measure back to the legislature with recommended changes, requiring legislators to take another crack at the bill.
“The governor’s amendment is a welcome addition, because it reinforces the scientific fact that the maintenance and the planting of trees also protects our planet from carbon emissions that we know contribute to climate change and sea-level rise,” Hope told the Sun Gazette.
Legislators can accept the change, reject it outright or negotiate with the governor’s office to come to a final disposition of the measure, which would go into effect July 1.
For several years, tree advocates have pressed Arlington County Board members to be more aggressive in supporting tree preservation. Many times, board members and county staff respond that their hands are tied by state law, which gives property owners significant rights, and have told critics to go to Richmond to seek redress.