Logger Ken Strong of Colorado has been cited by the Gila County Sheriff's Office for criminal damage, criminal trespass and criminal littering.
Strong was scheduled to appear this week in Judge Ronnie McDaniel's justice court. Beetle stricken trees have resurrected the tree cutting and logging industry here in Rim country. Just about anyone with a chain saw has been asked to fell an ill-fated ponderosa.
With thousands of trees needing to be removed, loggers from other areas have been turning up in town looking for work. Removing the stately pine costs a pretty penny for most residents. Tree cutters have to pay for equipment, labor and disposal of the fallen trees. Others, like Strong offer inexpensive rates for homeowners by harvesting large logs and selling them to the mills.
"He is under bidding all the professional tree cutters by a great deal," Deputy George Scott said. Scott and fellow deputies have been dealing with Strong and his clients and non-clients for about two months.
"Why would you pay $2,000 to $4,000 to have a lot cleaned up when Ken can do it for $200 to $400?" Scott asked. But problems can start in getting what you paid for, he added.
Allegations against Strong include cutting healthy trees, cutting trees on lots he was not authorized to be on, damaging personal property while taking logs off the lots and dumping his slash on private property.
"Ken has been told not to do any lots without a written contract," Scott said, adding that much of the problem has to do with Strong not getting permission or authorization in writing.
"Some people are really pleased with him," Scott said.
"He came in, got the trees and didn't charge them much. But it is his techniques that have buried him in this hole. Some of the properties he did have permission to work on and then the owners changed their minds after he made such a mess," the deputy said.
After weeks of trying to work with Strong, the sheriff's office issued the citations.
"We reached a point that we had to take some kind of action -- it was just getting out of hand. We went from one or two complaints in two weeks to yesterday when I talked to at least six people," Scott said last week. "We are taking a zero tolerance with him."
Strong is still under investigation and officers continue to keep up his whereabouts and activities.
It is the logger or tree cutter's responsibility to determine if they need to use the county right-of-way to clear a property, said Dan Olson, project manager of Gila County engineering service, another entity taking a zero-tolerance policy with Strong.
"Ken Strong is not permitted to work in the county right-of-way, can not use our right away to load logs, move logs, store equipment -- I cannot keep him from working for private citizens,"Olson said.
"If he is going to cut for you, it is his responsibility to know if he needs to be in the county right-of-way or how to find out. The responsibility at this point is to the cutter and not the homeowner. To protect yourself ask the cutter to show you a copy of the permit indicating insurance and the bond," Olson said, but, he cautioned, "A cutter can cut for a private homeowner when he does not use the county right-of-way and then homeowner is on their own."