West Tisbury selectmen give green light to cut library trees

The selectmen have given the green light to cut two of 11 Norway maple trees around the current town library, Howes House and Field Gallery. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

At their weekly meeting on Wednesday, October 17, West Tisbury selectmen again tackled the difficult topic of how many large trees — some several decades old — will need to be removed as part of the new library project.

After an emotional discussion, selectmen agreed to remove two Norway maples that are in the most severe condition. One of the trees is behind the Howes House and the other is at the entrance to the library parking lot across from Alley’s General Store.

But selectmen agreed to wait before making any decisions about several other trees.

Tree warden Jeremiah Brown presented selectmen with a plan that called for the immediate removal of those two damaged trees, as well as several other trees in front and in back of the library and along the northern edge of the property.

He also recommended removing a stand of arborvitae in between the parking lot and Field Gallery, but he recommended keeping several other trees between the parking lot and the gallery.

Mr. Brown said he looked at a total of 13 Norway maples and decided they all need to come down eventually, but he said it can be done over time to minimize the impact.

“The reason I’m not recommending to remove them all now is I think it’s too much of a dramatic impact all at once,” he said. “Take some of the worst ones… to help get the rain garden going and leave the rest until new ones grow up around.”

Polly Hill Arboretum director Tim Boland agreed with Mr. Brown’s recommendations, except for one tree between the parking lot and Field Gallery. Mr. Brown wanted to save the tree; Mr. Boland said it should be removed. “It is right in the run of the rain garden, that is the one that will lift the pavers and be the most problematic… it’s probably the best one, but that is the one that really has to go,” he said.

Mr. Brown suggested replacing the tree at the entrance to the parking lot with an October glory maple, a tree with bright green leaves in the summer and radiant red leaves that last several weeks in late fall. Virginia Jones volunteered to donate the tree.

In August, the library building committee first approached selectmen with a plan to cut down 11 Norway Maples to accommodate the new 13,000 square foot library that will begin construction around Thanksgiving.

Part of the new library calls for an environmentally friendly parking lot that uses interlocking pavers. Library building officials argued that the roots of the trees around the parking lot would push up and damage the pavers.

The removal of the trees will also make room for a new rain garden, which is expected to naturally filter pollutants from rainwater runoff before it enters the Tisbury Great Pond watershed.

But as they did last month, two selectmen — Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter and Richard Knabel — expressed concerns this week that removing the trees would eliminate screening for the Field Gallery and upset some residents.

“We are concerned about screening for Field Gallery, but there are also some neighbors over there,” Mr. Manter said. “I don’t have a problem, replacing them over time so we don’t have this terrible clear-cut image of the property.”

Mr. Manter said he was concerned that the plan to remove the trees was never presented to selectmen or made a part of any public presentation that he could recall.

“This library plan has been on the table for some time,” he said. “It disturbs me that all of a sudden you realize the trees need [to come down]. It should have been part of the process all along; I don’t understand how we do this at the eleventh hour.”

Mr. Knabel expressed frustration that saving the trees was never presented as an option. He asked, “Why can’t the design of the parking lot be modified to accommodate that tree?”

“It would cost a lot of money,” answered Mr. Boland. “It’s simply not worth it to modify the plan for one tree that you are already talking about removing.”

Cynthia Mitchell, chairman of the selectmen, recommended delaying a decision regarding the other 11 trees until they saw a visual rendering of what the area will look like with the trees removed.

Ms. Mitchell urged everyone to take the long view.

“This is a major construction project, and you do lose trees,” she said. “We’re doing the best we can.”