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Marilyn Regan

Winthrop Tree Committee Votes to Remove Trees Despite Residents’ Objections

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Marilyn Regan
Marilyn Regan
 2021-05-13

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Tree in front of Swett's LiquorsPhoto by Ana Leary

On May 10th, the Winthrop Tree Committee held one of its first public hearings in several years.

Twenty-six worried residents attended to voice their concerns about removing six healthy trees in the town center, including three in the Hagman Road parking lot, one in front of Swett’s Liquors, and one in front of Gagin Insurance.

Committee members in attendance included Tree Warden Paul O’Donnell, Marie Wynne, Dan Hibbard, Sue Wolverton, and Janice Stevens.

Trees are scheduled for removal per the Center Business District (CBD) Infrastructure Improvement Project.

Paul O’Donnell stated that the trees in question would die shortly anyway and preemptively cutting them down was a proactive approach. Several residents argued that the trees had several years of life left and that trees, in general, are vital in an urban area, especially one that is next to an airport and is prone to flooding.

Of the residents who spoke, none were in favor of the town’s current plan to remove the trees.

Despite this, the Committee unanimously voted to remove all of them and informed residents that the decision was final.

From all appearances, the Tree Committee made a unilateral, non-negotiable decision to remove all the trees prior to the meeting, and held it simply to allow residents to vent.

Of note, Winthrop, once rich in trees, has lost its distinction as a “Tree City” with the Arbor Day Foundation.

When specifically asked what type of program the town has for replanting trees, Mr. O’Donnell was unable to provide details on how decisions are made to remove trees, replace them, or how trees that are replanted are irrigated. He claimed that the program replaces 1.5 trees for every tree taken down. Judging by the appearance of streets like Woodside Avenue and Bartlett Road, this is a fallacy. In the few instances where the town has replaced trees, they are scrawny and typically a flowering pear.

The Tree Committee seemed committed to one thing only: chopping down as many trees as possible. This was evident in their reluctance to discuss the overall tree situation in the town

and Mr. O’Donnell’s comment that it was “too late” to change the decision about removing the trees.

One has to question why this is so. In addition, making a decision prior to a public hearing is against Massachusetts General Law (MGL), which requires that a sign be placed on all trees and a public hearing scheduled before removal.

Please again note that no public hearing has been scheduled for years, pre-COVID, regarding any tree removal in Winthrop.

Environmentally, trees reduce and trap pollen and smoke and reduce dust by as much as 75 percent. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, gasses such as sulfur and carbon monoxide, and can supply oxygen for one day for four people.

And how much jet fuel had these trees faithfully absorbed over the years? Considering Winthrop’s proximity to Logan Airport, this is something that needs to be examined before felling one more tree.

Strategically placed, trees cut air conditioning needs by 50 percent, diminishing energy demand. They reduce flooding, wind speed, and water run-off, thus reducing soil erosion. They also block noise and reduce glare.

Trees have a social benefit as well. They improve the mood of communities, increase social interactions, and provide beauty.

And if you think about it, this is what the Winthrop Center Business District Program is supposed to be all about. I, for one, am not convinced that residents will want to spend much time in a “revitalized” town center that has newly poured concrete and a few, scraggly trees.

The next meeting will be held on June 7th.

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