Dead oak trees, unsightly and a safety hazard
Dead, overhanging branches and dead trees loom along up-Island roads, unsightly and perhaps dangerous to passing motorists, walkers, and cyclists.
The devastation is the aftermath of caterpillar and moth infestations in 2005 and 2006. Though most trees will usually survive two years worth of defoliation due to winter moths, a severe drought in 2007 added to the challenge, leaving damaged trees without the nourishment they needed. Now, thousands of dead oaks present risks to drivers in heavy winds and bad weather.
West Tisbury executive secretary Jennifer Rand said this week that the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) is responsible for general maintenance and brush removal along many roads on the Vineyard, including State Road. But, she said, town officials are usually the ones to order the clean up of stray branches and fallen trees.
"If a fallen tree is on State Road, ultimately it is the state's responsibility," she said. "The fact is, if a tree comes down in the middle of the night, we will most likely be the ones dealing with it."
Jeremiah Brown, tree warden of West Tisbury, said that MassHighway's jurisdiction covers all of State Road, as well as the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. Nonetheless, the majority of road maintenance is the town's responsibility, and Mr. Brown said he is now in the process of evaluating the biggest problem areas for overhanging trees and limbs and marking those trees for removal.
The main issue, Mr. Brown said, is that there is not enough money in his budget to remove all the dead trees. He is working to get the tree problem on the agenda at a future town meeting. "Right now I would consider it unlikely that the trees would fall on cars," he said. "Most of the trees died in the last year or two, and do not present immediate danger."
In a telephone conversation Monday with The Times, MassHighway spokesperson Ann Dufresne said she assumed the state would be held liable for any accidents caused by the dead trees on State or Edgartown-West Tisbury roads, because they are state property. "But, obviously, we want to avoid any kind of liability," she said.
MassHighway recently sought bids on a contract for tree removal and maintenance on the Vineyard's state highways. Dillon Tree Service of Shrewsbury was the successful bidder and got the contract last week. Ms. Dufresne said she expects the company will begin the removal of dead and hazardous trees on the Island within the next few weeks.