DPW and Planning Board disagree over Shade Tree removal policy/bylaw

Above: Town officials are trying to come to agreement on new parameters for deciding which roadside trees should be removed with or without a public hearing. (images from DPW’s Report recommending Tree Removals from Scenic Roads basedo on Arborist Tree Reports)

The Planning Board hopes to bring two Articles to Annual Town Meeting related to protecting roadside trees. Last week, they discussed disagreements with a Town department that would be charged with executing revised policies. Since those employees report to a different board, Planning will seek to find common ground in time to proceed this spring.

The crux of the issue is that the Planning Board would like to add checks and balances to the tree removal process. But Department of Public Works, which is responsible for public trees, objects to some proposed checks. Arguments include that delays to removing “hazards” would increase liability for the Town. There also appears to be concern over adding to the DPW’s administrative workload.

The disagreement is complicated by the fact that Public Works reports to the Board of Selectmen, not Planning. Meanwhile, the Planning Board is responsible for tree removal hearings under certain circumstances.

Internal dialogue on the policy began in 2020 after residents complained about the removal of trees on the south end of Deerfoot Road without public notice. It included a 200 year old oak that neighbors believed had seemed healthy. Some questioned the arborists findings used to justify the removals. They asked the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board to help prevent similar situations happening to other neighborhoods.

At that time, Planning Chair Don Morris noted that they had heard from furious residents in the past when trees were cut down that they believed were in good condition. Planning Member Meme Lutrell noted that the 2019 Tree bylaw was sponsored by their board to help the Town become a Tree City USA. She believed Planning should advocate for Shade Tree removal hearings. 

Later that year, representatives from both boards* began discussions with the Department of Public Works about the tree removal policy and potential revisions. Work continued through 2021.

Under Mass General Law, a “consolidated hearing” is generally required before the Planning Board and Tree Warden to remove trees within a public way or on the boundaries. But there are exceptions. The most broad reaching one is:

Nothing contained in this chapter shall prevent the trimming, cutting or removal of any tree which endangers persons traveling on a highway

Public Works had been avoiding hearings based on arborists’ descriptions of trees as dying or damaged/unstable.

The Tree Warden also has the authority to remove trees without hearings from most roads if it is less than 1½” in diameter or to allow “widening the highway”. There is an exception to that last exception. On scenic roads:

any repair, maintenance, reconstruction, or paving work done with respect thereto shall not involve or include the cutting or removal of trees. . . except with the prior written consent of the planning board. . .after a public hearing

For decisions related to trees and stonewalls on those scenic roads adopted in the 70’s, Town Meeting instructed the Planning Board to consider “sound planning principals, aesthetics, and preservation of natural resources as well as public safety”. A 1978 bylaw adopted all “existing” Town owned roads in Southborough as scenic roads.** Lutrell is working to draft a bylaw adding roads built since.

Discussions in 2020 included getting legal opinions on the process under state law. In a September 2020 Planning meeting, Lutrell shared Town Counsel’s opinion that Southborough could adopt a policy beyond the state’s, calling for more Planning Board involved hearings. 

Over the past couple of years, Public Works and the DPW have held tree removal hearings. (The process was treated differently for trees that officials believed were on non-scenic roads than those on scenic roads.)

Planning advocated for holding consolidated hearings in front of the Planning Board, rather than a split process. Apparently concerned that the DPW might not always adhere to a Planning policy, Lutrell began work on a bylaw to codify the process. 

Last week, Town Planner Karina Quinn outlined some of Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan’s objections to the draft bylaw. She was concerned about hearings holding up the DPW’s ability to remove dead trees they consider a hazard. Quinn noted that some others have conflicting opinions on whether some identified trees were really “imminent” dangers.

Quinn also noted that the utilities are legally allowed to trim shade trees that are hazardous to power lines. That sometimes means under Tree Warden supervision, the utility removes the tops, leaving 10 foot tall stumps. Since the trees are now “dead”, DPW no longer needs a hearing to have them removed.

Quin said that Galligan said she would be willing to shift all tree responsibilities, including the Tree Warden position, to the Planning Board. 

Morris opined that actual tree removals belong under the DPW and some administrative process for public input should belong to Planning. He believed that they should be able to come to an agreement on what falls on each side of the line.

Lutrell claimed that in prior conversations with selectmen and Public Works, Galligan had agreed to the proposed process, then later reversed her opinion. She noted that Arborist reports on the DPW’s website indentify hundreds of trees to be removed. She characterized it as half of Oregon Road and 45% of Edgewood. She opined there had to be middle ground between “dead trees falling down on people and having hearings on everything”. The bylaw was meant to define what an emergency is, and when things can come down without a hearing. She followed that when trees have been on an arborist report for several months without removal, she didn’t understand why there couldn’t be a public hearing.

Other members agreed with Lutrell’s position. Morris called for continuing open dialogue with the DPW and BOS for clarity. He suggested that Quinn and Lutrell move forward to find a “clear set of rules that everyone can live with”.

*Lutrell represented the Planning Board. Brian Shea initially looked into the situation for selectmen. Sam Stivers took over for the BOS that spring.

**Until recently, the Planning Board had believed based on prior research that only about 24 roads were designated as scenic under bylaws passed in 1976-78. On January 10th, Town Planner Karina Quinn told the board that resident Debbie DeMuria had requested from the Town Clerk for any documents from all Town Meetings that included the word “scenic”. She discovered that in 1978, voters designated all existing roads as scenic roads. (Since then, Town Counsel opined that scenic road laws can only apply to roads that officially exist at the time of the vote.) State law does prevent numbered state routes, or state owned roads, as being included in that designation. Therefore, the designation doesn’t/won’t extend to Routes 9, 85, or 30.

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Kelly Roney
6 months ago

Whenever I hear the avoidance of legal liability given heavy weight in town decisions, I want to hear the past history of similar liabilities. What liability costs has the Town incurred in the past 20 years due to falling trees or tree limbs? If insurance paid any claims, how much did our premiums escalate?

I know that alleged liability was raised to evict the generous and helpful Freecycle people of the Swap Shop, and it’s been a complete mess since then and not nearly as useful to source-reduce our expensive waste-hauling and to conserve the environment in general. I was skeptical of that claim, too.

Mike Ferris
6 months ago

IS THE PLANNING BOARD LOOKING FOR MORE FUNERAL HOME BUSINESS? LOL. 3 people were almost killed on a sunny June 2, 2018 morning on route 85 near the St. Marks hockey rink entrances. No warning the old oak had internal rott and it exploded and dropped on the car in front of me. I love trees. When it’s your dead child maybe you will wake up and listen to only to the experts the DPW. Beth you have the images , I’ll resend them. 30 ft. Limb canopies over roads is stupid especially with current storm trends

Tree Removal
6 months ago

Man, this can be a hurdle.

Save Trees Please
6 months ago

Time for change in “Tree City.” Thanks to those trying to help. There has been a sickening destruction of live trees by Ms. Galligan of DPW. There needs to be accountability, firings, and replacements with professionalism. Start with the hundreds of year old tree on Deerfoot. Go see what is left of that historic tree. Couldn’t work around that tree? What about the same vintage tree at the end of Flagg, located at the proposed entrance to Park Central? Coincidence? Reader, you be the judge. According to the utility company arborists involved, that tree was not dead in spite of Ms. Galligan’s unsubstantiated CYA claims. The utility company wrote a statement that they recommended trimming and the town’s involvement beyond that was up to the DPW. Incredible. Ms. Galligan cut down this majestic tree, toppled it over a stone wall (destroying the wall) on a scenic roadway, and left it there. In spite of the utility’s involvement, the town taxpayers unbelievably and unwittingly picked up the tab. Did you know you paid for this? This tree was hundreds of years old, around during George Washington’s colonial time. Sickening.

What about the razing of virtually all the healthy trees behind the library (in a Tree City) as part of a highly controversial and questionable quid pro quo deal involving St. Marks School and taxpayer funded monies. Don’t you need trees for a park? Not in Southborough. One of the felled stripped trees remains on site, to be a “sculpture.” Sacrilege. Keep reading.

These were healthy old growth trees mostly on private land taken down using taxpayer dollars for projects benefiting a private land owner. Even the public owned shade trees were removed to benefit this controversial DPW project. All questionably and loudly defended by BOS member Marty Healey. Time for change there as well at election time this spring, folks.

The trees were razed and were hauled away, worth tens of thousands of dollars. St. Marks, the private land owner who benefited from Ms. Galligan and DPWs “project” is planned to have a pocket park and a new parking lot. In the meantime, the Library Trustees (abutting library) had zero knowledge (in spite of Marty’s noisy and obviously ironic protests of public process) of the razing of this heavily forested abutting land, until the DPW clear cut St. Marks land. Btw, this is on an area depicted to be a Native American burial ground in the towns own history book. Marty, did you look at the graphic in the towns own history book? The map depicts this area as Nipmuc burial ground. See pages 40 to 46. Apparently the trees may well have been growing from composted human remains from pre-colonial, as well as colonial era times. Did the town take precautions and care upon being made aware? No. The town actually ignored the warning, caution letter issued early last November by the state archeologist and the Massachusetts Historical Commission, all under the advisement of the new town counsel who is “comfortable” with the situation. Ludicrous. All of this happened, BTW, with apparently no written agreements between St. Marks and the town. Where are the signed agreements and when were they signed? The draft (yes, draft) “License” agreement showed up in a BOS packet several meetings after the BOS chair proclaimed signed agreements at a November BOS meeting (see minutes for November and December). Wait. There’s more.

This entire controversial “project” benefiting St. Marks was funded by a taxpayer funded grant that was applied for and granted for a town “history walk.” The history walk was deleted from the plans. Marty Healey decries the Historic Commission’s earlier approval (for the walk!) now rightfully turned into questions. Now the BOS and new town counsel has taken aim at the chair of the Southborough Historical Commission. One of the few good people trying to sort through this controversial mess. Simply unbelievable. Wait. There’s more.

The BOS (and new town counsel) wants the voters to “approve” this backwards mess at town meeting. See the draft warrant (that was opened and closed over the holidays) Instead of asking voters permission up front at town meeting, which could have been easily done last November town meeting. This is a land matter involving public land whose authority belonged to the town voters properly in the first instance, BOS is looking for town vote backwardsly after the fact, seeking permission of the voters after work is done. Honestly, why bother even putting it on the warrant? No wonder they want to silence those questioning what the heck happened. Time for change at the voting booth!

M
6 months ago

Thank you. Save Trees, your information is very helpful.

Resident
6 months ago

What if anything does the resignation of Chris Leroy as Tree Warden have to do with any of this? Did he actually resign because of some of these things? To my knowledge we didn’t have a Tree Warden for a long time after Rick Rock retired. Chris resigning as Tree Warden may be a red flag we should all be paying attention to.

Al Hamilton
6 months ago

Sadly, we are going to see a lot more trees removed along our streets. The Emerald Ash Borer has arrived in Southborough and it will kill any ash tree that is not inoculated. Inoculation has to be done annually or bi annually and is expensive.

Linda Perkins
6 months ago

I have additional context to provide regarding the large oak tree that was felled at the proposed entrance to Park Central on Flagg Road. I sent this email to Karen Galligan, DPW Superintendent on Aug 2, 2020:

Ms Galligan,

Why was the very large tree at the culvert on the west side of Flagg Rd cut down? Who requested it and who authorized it?

Thanks very much,

Linda Perkins

This is the email response from Karen Galligan on Aug 3, 2020:

Hello Ms. Perkins,

Thank you for your e-mail. I appreciate your reaching out for the information.

National Grid Took down the tree at the south end of Flagg Road. National Grid’s Arborist walked Lovers Lane and Flagg Road with the DPW and identified trees that they needed to trim or remove to protect their power network. The DPW agreed that the trees that they were looking to remove were dead or severely compromised.

Thank you,

Karen Galligan
DPW Superintendent

On Aug 4, 2020 I forwarded the previous two emails to the Board of Selectmen. At the same time I sent the Board this email:

To the Board of Selectmen,

Today I spoke with David Donoghue, National Grid Forestry Supervisor. He is the Massachusetts Certified Arborist who walked Lovers Lane and Flagg Rd with DPW to identify trees requiring work to maintain National Grid service. Regarding the very large tree at the culvert on Flagg Rd, Mr Donoghue said National Grid paid town-hired contractors to cut branches and large limbs that were hanging over the road. He remembered this tree because of its huge diameter. He said the tree is located at a main circuit for the area. He also said he was not concerned with its removal because it would not benefit National Grid. National Grid did not pay to have this tree removed. There are many dead trees nearby on Flagg Rd that were not cut down. Why was this particular tree, which was located at/near the proposed curb cut for Park Central, felled and at whose expense?

Thank you for your attention,

Linda Perkins

Linda Perkins
6 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Both Lisa Braccio and Sam Stivers replied, indicating the matter would be looked into. Lisa indicated a more comprehensive reply would be forthcoming (it was not), and Sam indicated he requested the matter be added to an upcoming BOS meeting agenda. Please review the BOS meeting minutes of August 18, 2020, section VII.

northsider
6 months ago
Reply to  Linda Perkins

Wow Linda, thank you for digging into that because I just knew it was the town and likely their desire to have Park Central move forward. This definitely seems fishy.

Townie
6 months ago

I’m just shocked at the amount of good trees that were removed for small reasons while obviously dead trees remain. Why can’t the town just remove dead trees without permission? They’re obviously not coming back and just become a nuisance.

Pants on Fire
6 months ago

Thanks to Ms. Perkins for this additional search for answers while the town allows this lack of direct answers and deception to continue on who did what and who paid for it to persist. The BOS did nothing with no follow up to Ms. Perkins while Ms. Galligan stays comfortably right in the DPW seat, apparently accountable to no one. In the above emails Ms. Galligan states that the utility company took down the tree, while Mr.Donoghue from the utility company states that National Grid did not take down the tree.

The taxpayers unknowingly paid for its cutting down. As Ms. Perkins points out, there are plenty of dead trees, why this exact tree?

Recall the little jaunt down Flagg/Deerfoot by then BOS members Mr. Kolenda, fire, police, and others identifying trees for possibly illegal removal (on a protected scenic road) to make way for the most controversial development in town, park central? Where is the inventory list of those trees? Was the tree in question, with taxpayer money, one of the trees destroyed?
Regardless of all of the lack of answers, what is most seriously concerning is the non response which is effectively a cover up. Given the track record so far, this BOS should have no input whatsoever on preserving trees in a Tree City. There should be direct clear answers from Ms. Galligan on the above, as well as the shady (pun intended) pocket park and parking lot for St. Marks using public monies applied and granted for a History Walk. Mr. Healey also needs to explain his role immediately as the St. Marks “liaison.” What did he know and when? How did this entire controversial backwards project proceed without any signed agreements? Where are the signed agreements? Who exactly originated the ideas and uses, who actually requested this project, and when, and at what costs and benefits to whom? Produce these answers immediately at the next BOS meeting please. How much taxpayer funded grants and monies have been spent? Why weren’t more trees saved for this “park?” As pointed out above, doesn’t a park need trees? This BOS has failed to reign in their scofflaws at DPW and fire those responsible. The BOS should have nothing to do with tree authority except getting to the bottom of these questions and providing answers to the taxpayers they are supposed to be representing. Ms. Galligan is taking direction from someone? Who exactly is that on all of these matters?

BTW, the tree contractor referred to in the above emails doing all this “trimming” is a Rhode Island company. There wasn’t a Massachusetts based company who could do this work? The town apparently contracted the work. Why is a a Rhode Island company trimming trees in Southborough?

Audit DPW
6 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Beth, your post is puzzling. You state that a company called Stumpys is the low bidder and has the town contract, correct? The residents in the Flagg and Lovers Lane area show the tree contractor as a Rhode Island company called Stanley Tree Service. There seems to be a discrepancy. What is the source of your information? Which is it? Who had the contract? For how much?

There also may have been different tree services involved on the controversial DPW project done on the tree razed site behind the library for St. Marks, paid with taxpayer funded finances. Beth, who was the tree service who clear cut that site? Where did the trees go? Where they recycled or sold? How much were those valuable tree worth? There should be an immediate audit of all of these transactions and monies granted to and used by Karen Galligan and DPW. The BOS should order an audit and report to the public ASAP. Thanks

Tree Services Used by DPW
6 months ago

In addition to Ms. Perkins helpful email context above, as depicted in neighborhood photographs, on July 21, 2020 and dates thereabouts and thereafter, the tree service doing the tree work in the area of Flagg Road and Lovers Lane was Stanley Tree Service of Rhode Island. The trucks used were a white bucket truck with red lettering “Stanley Tree Service” with also a red heavy tree service truck, also labeled same. The Southborough police did the traffic detail work at the time.

Tune In to the Feb 8th BOS meeting
6 months ago

In reference to Save the Trees comment above that BOS is targeting a Historical Commission member who is asking questions. The posted BOS agenda for Tues Feb 8 630PM includes one item: “Discussion of findings and options regarding ethical conduct of Historical Commission member”. Tune in and watch carefully! DPW Galligan spent hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars to work on St Marks land but BOS is holding hearings to discuss ethical behavior of those asking questions about this matter. This is DEEPLY CONCERNING CONDUCT BY BOS. The campaigns against Healey and Stivers should start today. Change from the top down – a call to action if ever there was one. Stay tuned.

Tune In
6 months ago
Reply to  Beth Melo

Thanks Beth. Appreciate the added info. In the real world (outside of dysfunctional town government circles), the TIMING appears retaliatory regardless of cause. It’s just a little too coincidental in my opinion.

M
6 months ago

I use an arborist who is nationally respected. Called upon by the Forest Service for help, gives lectures around the country. I am sure the Southborough Gardeners have many resources as well. This person was appalled to see the choice of trees being removed as well as those being PLANTED after the Route 30 roadwork!

My suggestion would be that from here on, the Town of Southborough, b, e it DPW, Planning Board, BOS, Historical Commission or whomever, require a SECOND OPINION!
I mean no offense to the Tree Wardens current or past, or the arborist previously used, but this seems to be a much bigger problem than the job description. Let’s hire a second arborist for a lengthy review and second opinion. All removal should be put on hold until this is done.

Once historic trees are removed, we have lost “scenic” forever. I don’t know how we ever received the “Tree City” designation in the first place.

John
6 months ago
Reply to  M

M,

We’re going to have to cut down a lot of trees to make the paper, fabric, and other materials used to print more money just to be able to afford the “lengthy review and second opinion” you propose! You know what they say about opinions.

All of the Above
6 months ago

Beth, when does the public get answers on all of the questions posed above? Can you do a follow up article? What about the lack of response from BOS from questions raised by Ms. Perkins and her good email persistence seeking answers. What is their response about who exactly cut down the tree, who paid, and how much?

Ms. Perkins emails point out some striking inconsistencies between the utility company’s denial of cutting down the huge tree on Flagg and DPWs version stating it was the utility company. If Ms. Galligan of DPW is telling the truth, why did the town spend taxpayers monies? And Ms. Perkins question on why that specific tree, when there are other dead trees? It would be good to have an answer. Agree with others, there should be a public audit of DPW that includes names of vendors used, bids, and funds spent and a published report made available to the taxpayers. Thanks.

Deerfoot South
6 months ago

Last year DPW cut down several very large oaks along Deerfoot Rd. South, claiming they were a hazard (!!) They were healthy trees. To this day, there are three large, dead, rotted trees on Deerfoot South that could fall any minute, and the DPW has left them up. They are hanging over the phone/utility wires, and right over the road where people drive and walk.

Puzzled why DPW takes the good wood, and leave the rotted wood to fall as it may.

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