Residents taking city to court over tree removal

  • A tree with a tag awaiting removal on Norwood Street. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • A tree tagged for removal on Norwood Street. Recorder Staff/Dan Desrochers

  • Several trees in the tree belt on the north side of Norwood Street have been slated for removal. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Several trees in the tree belt on the north side of Norwood Street have been slated for removal. April 23, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

  • Several trees in the tree belt on the north side of Norwood Street have been slated for removal. April 23, 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz—Paul Franz...

Recorder Staff
Published: 4/24/2018 8:04:38 PM

GREENFIELD — Some residents who want to protect shade trees are bringing the city to court over a plan to chop down healthy trees in a residential neighborhood so Berkshire Gas can more easily install gas lines.

A hearing on a request for a preliminary injunction to stop the tree removal is scheduled for Monday, April 30, in Franklin County Superior Court. The case comes as residents have attempted to stop Greenfield from removing seven trees on Norwood Street where Berkshire Gas is replacing gas lines.

“These are healthy trees,” complained Glen Ayers of 254 Davis St., who filed the complaint against the city with 21 others. “The only reason for removal of these trees is to facilitate the installation of a gas line.”

According to Ayers’ partner, Mary Chicoine, the removal of trees is affecting the public benefit that the trees provide, including improved cooling of homes and decreased flooding and storm water run off by the absorption of water through root systems, branches and leaves. Also, shade trees in residential areas are generally seen as enhancing the attractiveness of a neighborhood.

According to Chicoine, she and Ayers have been attempting to address tree removal in the city for the past two years with Director of Public Works Don Ouellette. The pair also spoke with city councilors and sent a letter to Mayor William Martin but felt their concerns have not been adequately addressed.

“We don’t have alternatives,” Chicoine said. “Our only recourse is to go to court.”

And according to Ayers, Ouellette, who oversees tree removal and has an agreement with Berkshire Gas, “has completely subverted Massachusetts General Law and what he is doing is completely unlawful.”

According to Ouellette, the city’s removal of trees does follow state statute.

Ouellette said this includes holding a public hearing that is advertised and tagging the trees expected for removal two weeks before the meeting.

One such hearing is expected Thursday at city hall, when trees that have been tagged on Norwood Street are expected to be discussed.

Norwood Street was an area where Ayers said he became “alarmed when walking” upon noticing all seven of the trees on the north side of the street tagged for removal. Of the 22 residents who filed the complaint, one lives on Norwood Street.

According to Ouellette, trees on Norwood Street are not healthy, though Chicoine and Ayers disagree.

The tree removal on Norwood Street is being done to “save money and time” on Berkshire Gas’s installation of underground lines, which is done more easily through the grassy tree belt than through the road, according to Ouellette.

Ouellette said Berkshire Gas can do the installation in about a week to a week and a half through the tree belt. If it trenches through the road, then the installation could take 2 to 2½ weeks, and would require later work to pave over the trenches.

Ouellette could not say how much money Berkshire Gas would save by going through the tree belts, but said the company estimated it would have saved about $17,000 going through the grass on Silver Street where similar installation had occurred and is similar in distance to Norwood Street. The city had Berkshire Gas go through the roadway for that project.

Ouellette said he prefers the work being done through the grass because it also limits damage to the roadway. When the asphalt patch is put down, Ouellette said, the roadway can become uneven and moisture can get beneath the pavement, leading to pot holes and other damage.

Ouellette pointed to Federal Street as an example of this.

Ouellette said he came to an oral agreement with Berkshire Gas to pay $200 for each house affected by the work. According to Christopher Farrell, spokesman for Berkshire Gas, the $200 is for each tree removed.

That money is then put into a revolving fund for tree planting, according to both Ouellette and Finance Director Elizabeth Braccia.

Ouellette said Berkshire Gas has donated $26,000 to the city, including $18,000 in September. Braccia said $27,179 is currently in the account, which includes other donations. The money goes toward “greening Greenfield” Ouellette said, and the city has planted close to 100 trees a year over the past three years.

Ouellette doesn’t have the agreement with Berkshire Gas in writing. The mayor says he has requested it.

In addition to the removal of trees, Ayers voiced concern over older utility lines being left in the streets rather than being removed or replaced by Berkshire Gas.

“The proper way is to remove old junk and replace it with new material. That should be done from an engineering perspective,” Ayers said.

According to Ouellette, “It’s not uncommon to abandon old water lines, old gas lines” underground, even if it’s “not great practice,” he said.

Ouellette noted the old pipes can corrode away over time.

You can reach
Dan Desrochers at:

ddesrochers@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 257


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