Trees Update

Urban Forest Management presentation; Joint hearing on 105 tree removals; Planning seeking vegetation and hazardous tree management plans from NGrid

Above: This dead tree is just one of over 100 public shade trees the Select Board and Planning Board will discuss potential removal of on the 9th. (photo by Beth Melo)

With a tree removal hearing notice posted this week, it’s a good time to share an update on Town boards’ work to manage trees in town.

Urban Forest Management Presentation

slide from Urban Forest presentation (image from Planning meeting packet)Earlier this month, Planning promoted a guest lecture on Urban Forest Management to take place at their July 11th meeting. Technical issues forced them to postpone the presentation.

That has been rescheduled to this Monday, August 1st. The meeting begins at 7:00 pm. The presentation will likely begin soon after. (There was a hearing scheduled for the start of the meeting, but yesterday afternoon Planning posted that the business will be withdrawing its application.)

The main intent is to help Town officials who are grappling with issues related to preserving and managing our public shade trees. But the public is also invited to learn.

For more background and details on the presentation, click here. For a look at the slides in the meeting packet, click here.

August 9th Tree Removal Hearing

10 Latisquama and 3 Sunrise (L-R by Beth Melo, from hearing materials)The Southborough Select Board will host a joint public hearing with the Planning Board on Monday, August 9th at 6:45 pm to discuss the potential removal of 105 trees on 23 streets.

The boards hope to quickly dispatch with a list of 69 trees that were previously certified by an arborist as dead.

An additional 36 trees (at 30 properties) will be considered based on residents’ requests. Not all of the trees are clearly dead. Some are ones that residents believe are dying, including ones that have been “dropping branches”. (For a handful on the list, a recommendation is noted that branches be trimmed rather than the trees removed.)

At their July 12th meeting, Select Board member Lisa Braccio updated the Board on her work with Planning Chair Meme Luttrell. Luttrell brought to her attention that not all of the trees had been assessed by an arborist. To expedite the process, the pair examined the 20+ trees together. They identified 9 that they would have an arborist evaluate before the hearing. (In past meetings, Select Board members had noted that sometimes it is clear enough that a tree is dead that an arborist report isn’t necessary.)

Braccio and Luttrell also agreed upon a new term, “death is imminent”, to categorize trees that appear close to death.

In that discussion, the Select Board revisited the need to fund planting new trees to replace the trees that are removed. Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski suggested having a standing annual Article at Town Meeting to address that need.

The August 9th hearing notice describes:

The trees range in size from six inches (6”) to fifty inches (50”), of the following varieties: Ash (10 trees), Oak (65 trees), Hickory (6 trees), Maple (14 trees), Elm (2 trees), Birch (1 tree), Pine (2 trees), Linden (1 tree), Poplar (1 tree), and 3 trees of an unknown variety.

They are located on Breakneck Hill, Chestnut Hill, Deerfoot, Edgewood, Flagg, Gilmore, High, Highland, Latisquama, Lovers Lane, Marlboro, Mount Vickery, Oak Hill, Oregon, Parker, Parkerville, Pine Hill, Sears, Southville, Strawberry Hill, Sunrise, Woodbury, and Woodland roads. Click here for the list of trees that were previously certified as dead. For the others under consideration, the list is here. You can see the details/photos for most of those here and 7 additional ones here.

The notice refers to the hearing as held by the Tree Warden. As I previously wrote, that’s based on Town Counsel’s recent opinion that under MGL the Select Board is the Tree Warden.

That does cause some confusion. The Town has always designated an employee Tree Warden. (For years, that has been DPW employee Christopher Leroy.) According to Counsel, the Board can delegate many of the functions to an employee. But the Board must hold the hearings and make the decisions related to public shade tree removals.

National Grid’s “Vegetation Management”

For years I’ve heard grumbling over how National Grid lops tree limbs near power lines.* In the most recent tree removal hearing, Leroy referred to the utility’s trimming practice as “flat cutting”. It is more aggressive than the controlled trimming done by those trying to preserve trees.

Now, the Planning Board is looking to exert more control over what is trimmed on scenic roads. They will be seeking support from the Select Board.

This summer, NGrid submitted 3 applications for Vegetation Management that simply listed the roads on which they plan to do tree work. Planning responded by asking for their annual Vegetation Management Plan and Hazardous Tree Management Plan for Southborough.

Planning’s request was rejected by NGrid’s legal counsel as not required. The attorney claimed the tree work isn’t covered by state statutes’ reference to maintenance. In turn, Town Counsel opined that the Planning Board was in the right, and their request was reasonable and fair.

According to Luttrell, under Mass General Law there are two ways that NGrid can get permission from Southborough to trim/remove public shade trees on our scenic roads. One is to go through the public hearing process for each request. (The materials they submitted for that don’t qualify, as they only list the roads and not specific trees.)

Alternatively, they can submit an annual Vegetation Management Plan and Hazardous Tree plan for approval by the Tree Warden.

In the past, NGrid received Town approvals by walking the planned roads with the “Tree Warden” (without the Planning Board). That was before the Planning Board raised issues with the process, noting their jurisdiction over removals on scenic roads (and before the Select Board was identified as the true Tree Warden.)

This year, DPW Superintendent Karen Galligan asked NGrid to supply the information on what trees they would be taking care of, resulting in the 3 applications. At the July 11th Planning Board meeting, members discussed how to handle NGrid’s response.

Members noted that under MGL, the utility is required to provide the annual plans if they are requested by the Tree Warden. The majority of the Board agreed to ask the Select Board to request the annual plans and allow Planning to review the ones for scenic roads.

Member Jesse Stein said that he was in disagreement with the other members on pursuing the plans. Because its work relates to maintaining the electrical infrastructure, he believed requiring the utility to provide the plans was a step too far. Member Marnie Hoolahan and Luttrell assured that the company creates the plans years in advance.

Member Andrew Mills questioned that. He pointed out that he’d never observed the utility workers studying which tree limbs were to be trimmed. Gesturing, he indicated that he’d instead seen them swoop down a section of the street. Hoolahan and Luttrell joked that was just in Southborough where the plan is a line down the street.

Responding to Stein’s concern, resident Tim Litt said that the plan should make work easier for the utility, eliminating the need for hearings.

*A sign of how frequent the complaint is of how the utility trims trees is that one of the three FAQs on their website under tree trimming asks “Why did National Grid disfigure my tree?”.

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