There will be an unusual tree removal hearing this Wednesday, September 7, beginning at 6:30pm, at the Sons of Italy, 196 Adams Street in Nonantum. Unusual, because most tree removal hearings, which are required under state law (MGL Chapter 87) before removal of a non-dead or hazardous public shade tree, involve one or two trees and happen in Newton on Friday mornings.
This large scale removal of healthy street trees is, I believe, unprecedented in Newton, and is considered necessary by DPW to implement a sidewalk reconstruction project which will eliminate uneven sidewalks lifted by tree roots, and years of patchwork repairs. Residents have been asking for years for something to be done about the unsafe sidewalks, and the city has responded. The sidewalk reconstruction plan has been in the works for two years, I’m told. However, the fact it would involve the removal of 30-plus street trees seems to be a recent development. The Urban Tree Commission only learned of the tree removal aspect in June, from Ward 1 Ward Alderman Alison Leary, who’d only just heard about it herself.
Unfortunately, because of the size of the existing roots, and some narrower-than-normal sidewalks, DPW and Director of Urban Forestry Marc Welch believe that for these trees, either the work required to fix the sidewalks would damage roots to the extent that the trees’ death would be accelerated, or that if they tried to preserve the roots, they would soon lift the new sidewalks. Therefore, the proposal is to remove the problem trees, and plant replacement trees where appropriate, as well as new trees in as many locations as possible.
The most recent plan that I’ve seen (this is my annotated version) shows 35 trees totaling 535 inches DBH (Diameter at Breast Height,
or 4’6″ off the ground) to be removed, and 11 trees nominally remaining. However, one of those 11, a linden, had already been tagged for removal due to its condition (tagged a couple of years ago, judging by the tag number), and another, a Norway maple, is not in great shape. The map show 66 tree locations between Washington Street and Watertown Street when all is said and done, including some replacements for existing stumps, and some where new tree wells would be created.
The intention is to plant new trees which are 3″ or 3-1/2″ caliper, subject to availability. This is larger than the usual 1-3/4 to 2″ caliper that is usual for new street trees, and would be an effort to more quickly restore lost canopy. Larger trees would also be less likely to be knocked around by pedestrians or plows, but will also need extra watering for their roots to establish.
The Urban Tree Commission did have an opportunity to comment, and our chair Barbara Smiley wrote this letter on our behalf. We did not object to the plan, but asked that best practices be employed for planting, that the city replace the caliper inches lost, not just number of trees, and that adequate resources are devoted to ensure the trees’ survival. (That would include watering as needed to survive a drought like this summer, even after the customary two years’ watering needed for roots to establish.) As yet we have no information on size of tree pits or other details.
I feel particularly strongly about replacing caliper inches, as is required of developers, and as the city customarily requires of itself, as in the case of tree removals for the Angier and Zervas school projects, where lost caliper inches will be replanted in the surrounding neighborhoods. Even if 56 new trees of 3-1/2″ caliper are planted, that’s only 196 caliper inches, about 36% of what will be lost (measured by diameter). And as is always the case, diameter, being a one-dimensional measure, greatly understates the loss of canopy and its benefits, shade, water and noise absorption, and traffic calming. I would not like to see Nonantum shortchanged on tree replacement by having it described in terms only of number of trees. Nor have that lead to a lower bar for other projects.
This may seem like an issue mostly of concern to Nonantum residents, but as with so many projects, it could set a precedent for projects in other village centers. If you have views, pro or con, or just want to learn more, please come to the public meeting/hearing on Wednesday. Under MGL Chapter 87, any objections to any of these removals would have to be received in writing (email [email protected]) before or during the Wednesday hearing. I think it is virtually guaranteed that any objections would be overridden by the mayor, but how the replanting is handled is still up for discussion.