Oak Bluffs takes tree removal to small claims court

Following an unauthorized removal of an Ocean Park tree, town will seek compensation.

Oak Bluffs is seeking restitution from Thomas Hjerpe, 54, of Northborough for removing a tree in Ocean Park.

Oak Bluffs selectmen gave parks commissioner Amy Billings the greenlight to discuss legal action against a seasonal resident over the unauthorized removal of a tree in Ocean Park.

Less than a week into the New Year, a catalpa tree was mysteriously removed from town property.

In an email to The Times, Oak Bluffs Police Sgt. Daniel Cassidy said Thomas Hjerpe, 54, of Northborough contacted him and Billings after a Facebook post from Mark Crossland asked anyone with information to contact local authorities about the disappearance of the tree. Crossland, of Crossland Landscape, maintains Ocean Park for the town.

Hjerpe is listed as the owner of two condos at 61 Ocean Ave., which has a direct view of the cut-down tree, according to assessors’ records.

At a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night, town administrator Robert Whritenour did not refer to Hjerpe by name, but told selectmen a “seasonal resident” cut down the tree, and that following an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate with the seasonal resident, the town is now heading to small claims court to get the value of the tree back.

Selectman Ryan Ruley said the incident was “egregious and ridiculous,” and that he supported doing whatever was possible to recoup the town’s loss of the tree. “It’s caused a lot of anguish in town, and I think it’s disgusting. I think we should aggressively pursue it,” Ruley said.

Selectman Brian Packish said there was a blatant disregard and lack of willingness to accept fault on the part of Hjerpe. “Quite honestly, this person should feel very lucky they weren’t arrested, as they should have been,” Packish said. “We should be seeking whatever the heaviest amount of compensation we can get. If it’s one tree, two trees, three trees, whatever it is, that needs to go back, they should be as big as possible.”

He added there should be a continued discussion on what goes back in the park and where.

Town counsel will be represented by Michael Goldsmith.

Speaking to The Times by phone Wednesday, Billings said she learned Hjerpe had been trimming the tree “for years.” She said most Ocean Park residents are good about coming to the town with landscape requests. “You can’t do that and get away with it,” Billings said. “You can’t go anywhere off your property and cut down a tree. It’s not their property, and it’s not their tree to cut down.”