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Man in trouble after cutting golf course trees

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By Rosalie Everson

White plastic rail fence separates Coyote Creek Golf Course from surrounding homes on the east side of Fort Lupton. The fence that physically separates the properties also is the dividing line of a controversy that started 3 1/2 months ago when a homeowner was arrested for cutting down trees on the course that were blocking his view.

Most of the course is manicured greens, but some areas, the “roughs” are allowed to grow into a natural state. There are roughs on the west side of the fence dividing Larry and Sandi Plooster’s Wagon Wheel Drive backyard from the golf course. Beyond the fence is a 20-foot-wide stretch of tall grass leading to a pond lined with young willows, Russian olives and multi-trunked cottonwood trees.

The Ploosters say they bought their Coyote Creek Golf Course view lot eight years ago because they could look across the pond and see sunsets over the 13th hole. When the trees, which they maintain were “sucker trees,” got big enough to start blocking their view, they asked golf course employees to trim them.

“We discussed with the golf course the weed problem,” Larry Plooster said. “They said ‘We can’t get a mower back there.’”

Next, he went to an August 2007 city council workshop to ask that something be done. Mayor Shannon Crespin, he said, instructed then-city manager Jim Sidebottom to look into it.

“A couple of weeks later,” Larry Plooster said, “somebody called and said that ‘“what’s behind the fence is your problem, if you want it cut, you cut it.’”

By that time, it was nearly autumn, leaves were falling, and the view problem went away for the winter. But at high noon on June 28, 2008, Larry Plooster took a saw and matters into his own hands. “I cut down two sucker cottonwoods,” he said, “two weed trees. I wasn’t hiding anything, I left the branches there for them to pick up with their cart.”

According to a police report filed on July 16, a golf course employee was playing golf on the 13th hole when he saw what he thought were several aspen trees missing from the east shoreline of the pond. He found a large pile of branches laying in the grass and freshly cut stumps.

Plooster was called in for questioning on July 28 and readily admitted he cut down two cottonwood trees because, he said, he had been told he was responsible for anything behind his fenced yard. He said he thought that would be the end of the matter. But, instead, he was arrested for felony criminal mischief, and taken to Weld County Jail where he spent the night before being released on a $20,000 bond. He also was accused of misdemeanor criminal trespass, a charge he says was dropped.

The felony charge stems from a quote for the cost of four replacement cottonwoods the golf course management received from The Tree Farm Nursery and Garden Center of Longmont. The cost, $3,420.21, is above the $1,000 damage requirement for a felony.

According to golf course employees, the trees were between 10 and 15 feet tall and it makes no difference if they were volunteer or planted, they were city property and should not have been cut. The Ploosters say they were half that height and a certified arborist they hired agrees with them that they had no value.

“If I went back there without asking, that’s a different story,” Plooster said, “but I waited a year, and I said ‘you told me to cut it, I cut it.’”

Plooster, who works for United Parcel Service as a feeder driver, said that if he is convicted, he will lose his job.

“If he should lose his job, we’ll lose our house, we’ll lose everything,” Sandi Plooster said. “If I lose my job over this, so be it,” Larry Plooster said.

Plooster has a Dec. 8 court date, but there’s a chance the case will not go before a judge. City Administrator Mike Konefal, acting on behalf of the city, said he would be meeting with Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck this week to talk about a resolution.

Buck said that was also in his plans.

“I plan on talking to the city,” he said. “I need more information. I haven’t heard enough from the defendant.”