May 31st Tree removal hearing raises more questions (Updated)

Above: Of the trees newly in jeopardy, the most controversial is one at the corner of a scenic and non-scenic road. (images L-R by Beth Melo and cropped from DPW posted pics)

A Select Board hearing on more tree removals has been scheduled for a week from tonight. Some residents are concerned about the potential for the Board to approve cutting down live public shade trees. Others are questioning whether the agreed upon process is being properly followed.

The notice states that the hearing will cover discussion of:

the removal of six (6) trees located at: 5 Stub Toe Lane, 6 Sunrise Drive, across from 65 Marlboro Road and 2 Stockwell Lane. The trees range in size from ten inch (10”) to forty-two inch (42”) and consist of five (5) oak trees and one (1) maple tree.

In looking into questions about those trees, I discovered that at the May 31st meeting, will also include the appeal of April 25th decisions about tree removals on Flagg and Deerfoot Road.

As most readers should know by now, there has been public upset over some live public shade trees removed by the DPW. The Planning Board and Select Board have been trying to work out a process to protect trees. They aren’t yet on the same page, but did come to a temporary agreement this spring. Officials would use a flow chart to manage the decision and hearing process.

That is meant to serve as a bridge until a longer term process is agreed upon. (That is likely to include voters’ weighing in on a proposed bylaw at a fall Special Town Meeting.) 

Under the chart, Tree Warden hearings for removing trees on non-scenic roads would take place at Select Board meetings, with a Planning Board member invited to participate. But one of the live trees on the list is questionable as belonging on it. The split trunk tree listed as 2 Stockwell Lane is on the corner of Highland Street, which is a scenic road.

Public Works may have determined it belongs to Stockwell Lane based on the boundary lines for 2 Stockwell which extend to the corner. However, that sliver of Stockwell is within the area that was designated as “Open Space Easements” in the subdivision plan for the Stockwell development. (See images below. You can see more of the easement info in the packet from Planning’s November 15th meeting.)

Stockwell-Highland trees (by Beth Melo) "Stockwell" tree (cropped from pics posted by DPW) stockwell pic 2 from DPW 9 Highland and 2 Stockwell from GIS Map Stockwell subdivision from 2021 Open Space Monitoring report

At last night’s Planning Board meeting, Chair Meme Luttrell* said that in back and forth emails, she argued that the tree doesn’t fall under the non-scenic road process. It’s either on a scenic road, which would require a joint Planning Board hearing, or it should be left alone as part of open space.

On a community Facebook page, residents have been debating over a public call to save the tree. Some are looking to preserve the beautiful, majestic oak. But other comments included questions on the proximity of the tree to wires and as a site line hazard at the intersection.

As for the trees firmly on non-scenic roads, in the DPW’s pics, one looks dead, one damaged and precariously positioned, and the others clearly alive. (Below are highlights from the posted pics.)

6 Sunrise across from 65 Marlboro Road 5 Stub Toe

I reached out to the DPW for some more detail on the tree removal requests. DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan indicated that one tree was of concern to the Tree Warden and the others were based on resident requests. The details should be included in the Select Board’s packet to be posted prior to the meeting. (You can check here for that later this week. In the meantime, all you can see is their posted photos here.) 

Under the flow chart process, the Select Board hearings were to be on the second Tuesday of the month. So I asked Public Works why this meeting is scheduled for May 31st. Galligan responded that it’s to wrap up the appeal process for the trees on Flagg and Deerfoot Road.

She is referring to trees considered at an April 25th Planning Board meeting. As I previously covered, while Planning and Tree Warden held hearings on the tree removals jointly, their decisions were separate.

The Warden, who works for the DPW, ruled to remove specified trees on Flagg and Deerfoot roads that interfere with a planned project to improve the intersection. Because there were objections to that decision, he noted that an appeal would automatically be heard by the Select Board.

However, the Planning Board denied the tree removal requests. (The Board also questioned whether the road project behind the request makes sense.) According to then-Chair Don Morris, the Select Board doesn’t have the authority to override Planning’s decision.

If that’s true, I’m not sure what the point would be of the Select Board weighing in on the Tree Warden’s decision. I haven’t heard if Town Counsel has provided any advice on that issue.

At last night’s Planning meeting, new member Debbie DeMuria wondered why the DPW scheduled hearings for the six trees listed. She noted that they weren’t on the list of 29 tree removal requests that the DPW had previously posted (and updated as recently as May 11th).

During the discussion, DeMuria also recapped a recent conversation she had with a native of Deerfoot Road who now teaches Arboriculture and Urban Forestry at UMass Amherst. Kristina Bezanson teaches future arborists. The Board agreed to invite Bezanson to speak at a future meeting. Their hope is to get valuable input as they continue to refine what the Town’s process should be for protecting and removing public trees.

*Luttrell was unanimously elected to Chair at the start of the meeting.

Updated (5/26/22 3:43 pm): The DPW has posted additional information on the trees being addressed by the hearing. It includes confirmation that the trees on the corner of Stockwell and Highland are being considered based on a residents’ concern about the site line at the intersection. Public Safety departments are being asked to provide their feedback prior to the meeting.

The request about Stub Toe Lane also includes a resident’s site line complaint. But the biggest safety issue noted was that the Southborough Fire Department ladder truck purportedly can’t access the end of the street. Chief Stephen Achilles responded to the DPW’s inquiry:

The vehicle was able to make the corner with little to no room for error. At this time, I see no immediate hazard, but any reduction in road width due to snow or ice will impair access. Therefore, I recommend the removal of the trees described and also the trimming of overhanging branches in the area of the corner.

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Keep the Trees, Fire DPW and Tree Warden
2 years ago

Stop taking down live trees. This is a designated Tree City. The Flagg – Deerfoot Roadway does not need a “redesigned” triangle, from a concept floated five to six years ago. No one wants it. No one requested it.

DPW and its 141 page expensive VHB project plans are NOT done deals and should NOT be moving like a runaway train. Taking down live trees to make it EASIER for huge dangerous heavy trucks is NOT wanted at all and should not be happening. Keep the trees. Lose DPW Karen Galligan and this tree warden, MAJOR PARTICIPANTS in the St. Mark’s Parking Lot – Park – Private Road $1m Giveaway!! WTH? How is it these characters are not fired yet? Seriously. Get people who can read English and follow the law. You can’t spend public money on PRIVATE property.

Is it because BOS members were giving the orders and instructions, per email chain led by Healey, EDCs Wood, Purple, and gang on the illegal spending giveaway for this “park?” project? With the Dennington phony “Park” committee (why not be a member AND set the phony scope?) and phony committee “charge” waiting with its predetermined park or plaque? Ignoring the BURIAL ground aspects? All starting off with appalling mismanagement and missing trees. VOTERS: Please support accountability by helping get the word out, supporting BOS recall and DPW oversight provisions, and at the ballot box. NO MORE FIASCOS AND COVER UPS. And definitely no raises and contract renewals for Galligan or Purple. Time to bid these services out!!

2 years ago

Just take down the dead trees.

2 years ago

Before any other trees are put up on a hearing can we cut down the obvious ugly dead ones all around town? WHY DO WE NEED TO APPROVE DEAD ONES?!?

Kevin Farrington
2 years ago

DPW’s own Consulting Arborist has produced reports for many of the roads in town highlighting the dead trees. The trees at #71 Flagg were listed as “dead and hazardous” back in September 2020 – they are still standing. There are many other hazardous trees listed in these reports dating from 2020 and 2021. Neglecting to remove these trees for almost two years while continuing to prioritize the removal of live trees constitutes negligence and exposes us, the tax payers, to considerable liability when these trees finally fall.

That said, all tree removals – live or dead – should go through the hearing process. It doesn’t need to be difficult. Just post all of the trees in one notice and have one hearing – you could cover hundreds of trees in one shot. Nobody is going to object to dead trees, but it creates a paper trail. On Flagg Road, we had a tree that measured 5’8″ in diameter taken down by the DPW. The residents remember the tree being healthy, the DPW says it was dead. Well it certainly is now. You’d think the DPW would welcome the process to avoid controversies like that going forward.

S Jenkins
2 years ago

Why is the Select Board not following the agreed upon moratorium? Perhaps it falls under the same category of why is the incompetent DPW Superintendent not yet fired for misconduct after all that has happened? Select Board, what will it take for you to start listening to voters? Get Galligan and crew under control or fire her if you can’t manage to do so. She is a danger to this Town and our future property values. Do whatever it takes and please STOP cutting down live trees!

2 years ago

Agree with S Jenkins, why isn’t the BOS following the agreed upon moratorium? However, disagree with getting Galligan under control, since that implies a second chance. You can’t fix that DPW. The tree referenced by Mr. Farrington at the end of Flagg was far from dead. Per public records and the NStar arborist, it needed trimming, but anything beyond that was on Galligan. (The utility company was only wanting to trim.). She straight up lied that it was dead. The email chain reflects this.

Remember when Governor Baker dismantled and reconstructed the state police group on the Mass Turnpike, now known as H Troop? It’s because it was dysfunctional, completely and embarrassingly corrupt and mismanaged.

Voters, we are paying for this nonsense. While dead trees pose life safety risks.

Fire and REPLACE Galligan! This crazy mismanagement and illegal spending of public monies has gone on long enough, and never should have happened in the first instance. NO RAISES, NO CONTRACT RENEWALS. Take a hard look at reconstituting this DPW. There should be an immediate audit. Voters, support upcoming DPW oversight and BOS accountability through recall provisions.

2 years ago

We are crazy to think that Mark Purple is ever going to get off his butt and fire Karen Galligan. She has had gaff after gaff and completely runs wild and he allows it over and over again. He should actually be fired as well. The mismanagement of this town by Purple and his fooligans like Galligan is completely disgusting. Galligan needs to go and Purple needs to be right behind her. When is enough, enough? BOS step up and take care of the issues. What is going on is a complete embarrassment. Speaking of getting rid of people, what is the story with the Police Chief? How long are we going to pay this guy to sit at home on “administrative leave”? He is another one, get rid of him already. Time to clean house!

2 years ago

I am listening to the Select Board meeting on this and I think I understood that the tree at Highland / Stockwell they are not taking any action on (meaning it’s staying up for now). But the audio quality over Zoom (for those present in person) is so poor that I can’t really hear. Can anyone confirm?

Grant Farrington
2 years ago
Reply to  Resident

I agree that the audio can be hard to hear on Zoom with the new OWL system that was installed. The Select Board found that the tree on Highland was outside of their jurisdiction and so they did not take action on it (it will remain standing). They voted to remove dead trees on Sunrise Drive and Marlboro Road, as well as 2 live trees on Stub Toe Lane at the corner of the road. The tree warden voted to keep a third tree on Stub Toe that was more removed from the road, and the Select Board voted to keep it and allow for some trimming on it.

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