The remnants of more than 120 trees, cut without permission on the city’s riverfront in February, will be removed later this year, according to a deal brokered between the city, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and attorneys representing the property owner who cut the trees.
“This doesn’t absolve him of any claims for damages; it just allows him to get in there and get those trees out of there,” Washington City Attorney Mark Piontek said during Monday night’s Washington City Council meeting.
In February, Perry D. Pecaut, 56, of New Haven, was remodeling a home along the Missouri River bluffs in Washington when, according to police, he cut trees and underbrush on land owned by the city and the Union Pacific Railroad. According to police, Pecaut later admitted after reading the property’s sight line agreement that he “was wrong and did not have the right to cut down the trees without permission.”
City officials later described the damage as a “football field-size of destruction.”
An independent tree contractor and arborist later determined that 123 trees had been cut on city-owned property. These trees were valued at $39,724. An additional 37 trees had been cut on Union Pacific railroad property. They were valued at $17,224. The city is in the process of seeking restitution from Pecaut, according to Washington City Administrator Darren Lamb.
Under state law, the city could seek up to three times the value of the trees in damages for restitution. That figure, according to the value placed on the trees by the arborist in the police department’s report, is $119,172. The trees on the railroad’s property could cost the property owner an additional $51,672.
Per the agreement approved at Monday’s meeting, Pecaut will have the trees removed from the city-owned property and take them to the city-owned composting area. City Administrator Darren Lamb said Pecaut will be footing the bill for the cleanup effort.
“He is responsible,” Lamb said. “It is not the city’s expense at all.”
According to city officials, the east portions of the Rotary Riverfront Trail will be closed when the cleanup work begins, which is expected to take up to four days.
“My understanding is that the plan is to get it done sometime during the week, to have it open during the weekend,” Piontek said.
Lamb said once a cleanup schedule is finalized, the city will announce the trail’s closure on social media and on the city’s website.
In April, Pecaut was charged with two counts of first-degree property damage, both Class E felonies, and two counts of second-degree trespassing. A hearing in this case is scheduled for later this month in the 20th Circuit Associate Court.
If convicted, Pecaut could be sentenced to up to four years in the Missouri Department of Corrections on each of the two felonies. He also could be ordered to spend up to one year in the county jail or to pay a $10,000 monetary fine. If convicted on the two trespassing charges, Pecaut could be sentenced to pay a $200 fine per charge. A photo of Pecaut was not available, according to officials with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department.
Lamb said once cleaned, the city will make a decision about what to do with the cleared area, including what trees should be planted there. There were various types of trees removed, including cottonwood, willow and maple trees, according to police officials in February.