SHIRLEY — National Grid will be allowed to remove or prune 100 town trees, despite resistance from residents at a public hearing earlier in March.
Since the public hearing on March 9, the utility company’s list of targeted trees has been downsized. Twenty trees originally tagged for removal are now slated to be trimmed instead. The Select Board voted unanimously to approve the new plan Monday, giving National Grid the green light to get started.
But resident Janet Tice, a vocal opponent of the original plan, didn’t favor the new one, either.
“There are many healthy trees still on that list,” Tice said.
During the meeting, she also read aloud a letter that another concerned resident — Gordon Chase — had sent to the board, asking that as many trees as possible be saved, preserving the town’s shady roads and rural character.
“I advocate on nature’s behalf,” he wrote.
Chairman Bryan Sawyer said he gets it, but the board had done its due diligence.
“I love Shirley for the same reasons other residents do,” Sawyer said. “But there needs to be a balance … nobody wants to be without power.” He also noted that the town ranks high on a state-wide power outage frequency list.
Sawyer said he’s OK with the company’s current plan, based on its revised roster.
A National Grid arborist who came to the meeting with other company representatives, explained. “Healthy trees do fail,” he told the board.
Select Board member Andre Jean Jacques seemed to be on the same page as Sawyer. But she opined that the board might get flak, either way, “I know some people won’t be happy … whatever decision we make,” she said.
Conservation agent Mike Fleming, a retired forester with expertise in the field, said the trees on the company’s list pose unacceptable risks to power lines and public safety, healthy or not.
Only about 10 of the trees slated for removal are, in fact, healthy, he said. The rest are diseased or damaged.
As for the healthy trees on the list, he agreed they need to go. Asked if pruning would be enough, he said no, it might even make things worse. The tree would quickly sprout more branches, he said.
Fleming’s close-up look at every tree on the list came at the request of Town Administrator Mike McGovern, who had asked him to accompany National Grid arborists and the town’s tree warden, Department of Public Works Director Dave Schwartz, when they re-inspected those trees.
Fleming, who gave a detailed report on his findings at a recent Conservation Commission meeting, sketched a shorter version for the Select Board, enumerating points he’d considered when evaluating the trees, including their condition, proximity to power lines and other factors.
He also corrected a procedural opinion he’d given the other board on its motion to make a public statement about protecting town trees.
Summarized, it states that the commission recommends “preserving town trees (that are) in good health and which do not present a public safety hazard,” as defined by the state of Massachusetts. With five of its seven members present, the motion, which he previously believed had failed, actually passed, he said, with three in favor and two abstentions.
In a later email, Tice asked the Select Board and the tree warden to “ensure” that the method National Grid aims to use on trees tagged for pruning adheres to its “old specifications” versus new ones. The new specs, which narrow proximity distances between trees and power lines, above, below and on both sides, call for “drastic pruning that will result in disfigured and weakened town trees,” she wrote.
Looks matter, too. Select Board member Debra Flagg said Monday night that the aftermath of the company’s pruning can be ugly sometimes, “like a bad haircut.”
Tice pointed out in her email — which several others backed up by passing it along — that the company arborist had already stated they’d be “happy” to comply with the town’s wishes in this matter.