California Couple Try to Move a 180-Year-Old Oak Tree. Get Fined $600K

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A judge has ordered a couple to pay approximately $600,000 for uprooting an oak tree – which later died – and causing damage to a protected property during the 180-year-old tree’s removal. A neighbor notified authorities when they spotted heavy equipment being used on a property that was protected by a conservation easement.

When Bob Neale – the director of Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship – learned about the heavy equipment activity on the property, which occurred in 2014, he went to the location to investigate.

Once there, Neale discovered that over 3,000 cubic yards of soil and rock had been removed. Additionally, according to a report by the Daily Mail, he found that the 180-year-old heritage oak tree had been uprooted and that there weren’t any work permits in place.

The oak had also been bound, giving Peter and Toni Thompson the ability to drag the tree is an adjoining property they owned. The couple had recently built a new estate home on the neighboring property.

Along with the heritage oak, the couple also attempted to move two other trees, using a haul road they bulldozed. All three of the trees they uprooted died, along with a dozen more trees and other forms of vegetation.

The degree of damage led Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship to file a lawsuit against the Thompsons.

Last week, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick rendered a decision and sided with the land trust. He chastised the Thompsons for “knowing and intentional” violations of the conversation deal.

Broderick added that the pair had “demonstrated an arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement.”

The Thompsons were ordered to pay over $586,000 in damages.

Not long after the ruling, the couple placed the ranch and the protected property up for sale, listing a sales price of $8.45 million.

The couple is seeking a new trial, claiming their attorney didn’t provide proper representation when a private family matter occurred before their court proceedings.

“There are so many personal tragic issues throughout this case that were very painful to deal with and actually really affected the ability to tell our side of the story,” said Peter Thompson.

“In our opinion, there’s a lot of evidence that our side of the story really didn’t get a chance to explain.”