A tiff over timber: Disagreement over tree removal riling Broward County community

Three critics now are seeking seats on the board of the under-the-radar Coral Springs Improvement District.

Image by tttboram from Pixabay

In some ways, it’s a classic Florida story: A disagreement over palm (and other) trees in the Broward County community of Coral Springs has spilled over into politics. 

Three founders of a Save Our Trees group now are running for seats on the Coral Springs Improvement District board, saying they’re troubled by a district plan to remove up to 5,000 trees from canal banks at a cost of over $6 million. 

If a significant storm hits, district administrators have said, trees could be knocked over and fall into canals, causing blockages that will in turn create flooding. They aim to clear-cut all trees and shrubs on district right-of-way along over 20 miles of canals they manage. 

But a growing number of residents are unhappy with the proposal. The three men – Ben Groenevelt, Stephen Lytle and Carl Tiefenbrun – are among those who are against taking down trees, saying there has to be a better and cheaper way. 

They’re running in a district election set for June 19. The improvement district is a utility-services provider to roughly 39,000 residents, with a three-person elected board. Incumbents Martin Shank and Len Okyn are running for another term; the other board member, Chuck Sierra, is not.

The district was originally formed in 1966 by the Florida Legislature and called the Coral Springs Drainage District. It was renamed in 1970, according to its website. It provides drinking water, stormwater and flood control and handles wastewater collection and treatment.  

Groenevelt, Lytle and Tiefenbrun have embarked on a grassroots effort to get elected to the rather obscure panel, meetings at community centers to strategize and spread the word about their campaigns. 

Only Lytle has previously run for elected office, an at-large seat on the Tampa City Council in 2019. He lost in the runoff.

“Our No. 1 priority is to stop the stormwater mitigation program that has been proposed which includes clear cutting 22 miles of waterways trees and vegetation,” Lytle told City & State. 

“We want to see a more efficient operation and more fiscal responsibility,” added Lytle, a human resources manager. “They want to spend more than $6 million to cut trees rather than focus on invasive vegetation and construction debris in the waterways.”

Groenevelt has had a career as a mortgage broker and Tiefenbrun runs a business providing IT and electrical services. They've spoken at various meetings and said he believes it is wrong to clear cut trees. 

“We believe in sustainable alternatives that will make our community more storm resilient while preserving our environment, protecting wildlife, and maintaining all the benefits the urban forest brings,” according to the group’s statement.

District leadership disagrees, saying the proposed clear-cutting is the most efficient and cost-effective solution. During a recent district meeting at J.P. Taravella High School, however, some critics also mentioned concerns about birds and other wildlife being affected by tree removal. 

Save Our Trees even had a tent outside the district’s open house day on April 29, and volunteers had a minor confrontation with the current board members – suggesting this tiff over trees isn't going away any time soon.

David Volz has been a reporter for numerous community news publications throughout South Florida over the past two decades, as well as the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and South Florida Business Journal. He covers local government, schools, sports, culture, faith groups and workplaces.

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