City officials, residents outraged by loss of Beacon St. trees

On October 18, 2017, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

The Somerville Board of Aldermen and the Mayor’s Office took immediate action to determine what went wrong with the oversight process at the Beacon St. reconstruction site. — Photos by Bobbie Toner

By Jim Clark

The repercussions of the seemingly unauthorized removal of trees as part of the Beacon St. reconstruction project hit a fever pitch last week as the Somerville Board of Aldermen took up the issue, demanding answers from those who were responsible.

After receiving complaints from residents of the area, members of the Board, most notably Ward 2 Alderman Maryann Heuston, made sure that the matter was put on the agenda for last week’s regular meeting.

At the meeting, a formal order was put forward asking that MassDOT, Newport Construction and all other parties with knowledge of the cutting down of the trees on Beacon Street on October 6, without any public notice, appear before the Board at its next regular meeting to respond to concerns about the surprise tree removal.

An additional order was submitted asking the Director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development work with MassDOT to cease all work on the Beacon St. reconstruction project until a full report on the removal of trees from the street is received and presented to the Board and until city staff is assigned day to day responsibility for oversight.

Both orders were approved by the Board and referred to the Public Utilities and Public Works Committee for follow-up.

During the meeting, several Board members expressed their anger and outrage over the removal of the trees without prior notice and approval by the city.

Tim Snyder from the Mayor’s Office addressed the Board and offered an update on the administration’s reaction to the issue.

“The administration shares the concerns and the anger that we have heard from this Board and this community,” Snyder said. “This is something that is simply not acceptable.”

Snyder pointed out that the contract for the Beacon St. project is administered by the state, with a contractor responsible for the work, and a sub-contractor who cut down the trees. According to Snyder, the sub-contractor obtained approval by the contractor, but not by MassDOT or the City of Somerville.

“Immediately upon finding out that this had happened, the administration contacted MassDOT, who immediately issued a stop work order on this,” Snyder told the Board.

According to Snyder, the city asked for an emergency meeting with MassDOT and the contractor to establish what exactly had happened.

“The city does have boots on the ground,” Snyder said. “It’s not a 24/7 presence on the ground, but there are boots on the ground from DPW, from engineering, from transportation infrastructure, to monitor the project. And beyond just monitoring, but to actually look at the specifications of what they’re doing.”

According to Snyder, because there was no work scheduled in that portion of the corridor at that time, no oversight monitoring was in place to prevent the cutting of the trees.

Snyder emphasized that the actions of the subcontractor was not acceptable and that the city should have been notified before any trees were taken down.

Additional actions taken by the Board at last week’s meeting related to the issue included a resolution that the administration assign or hire city staff to oversee the daily operations of contractor and utility company activity for the Beacon St. reconstruction project, and adopt a policy of such oversight for every state funded street reconstruction project going forward.

Also, an additional order was passed asking that the City Solicitor and the Director of OSPCD submit to the Board amendments to the Tree Preservation Ordinance with criteria for removal and notification to add safeguards for street reconstruction projects.

Beacon St. residents held a vigil Sunday night on at the site where the trees had been removed. City and state officials also attended. At each tree stump attendees shared how they felt about what had happened and what the trees meant to them. Flowers, notes and candles were placed on the stumps as well.

timesphoto's Tree Vigil album on Photobucket

6 Responses to “City officials, residents outraged by loss of Beacon St. trees”

  1. Vigil for a tree? says:

    What a slap in the face this is to all the Somerville families grieving the loss of a loved one from addiction. Is this stunt taking place because it is an election year? I’ve watched the video posted by Somerville Neighborhood News and learned all I need to learn about what our elected officials really care about. I’ve seen who attended this vigil and will not forget. They should remember that each addiction death affects at least 20 other people, so in recent years, at least 1000 people/voters have been affected by an addiction loss. And while the BOA is making demands of MA DOT for doing their job, how about they make demands of MA DPH? Maybe they could demand more treatment, prevention, and education? I won’t be holding my breath.

  2. How can you win in this city anymore?
    Traffic is a nightmare; cyclists are too numerous to count, and too many of them ignore common rules of the road, like God forbid they wait at a stop light or even slow down for a stop sign.
    Now the city is trying to widen the roads to accommodate the influx of these vehicles, and all hell breaks loose.
    I love trees, I know they are incredibly valuable to our ecology, but I also understand that living in a four square mile city with over 80,000 people in it, some things must change, and in this case, the removal of these trees was the best solution for our growth.
    You understand getting a tree removed in this city is almost impossible?
    I can assure you, if there was a better solution, your Alderman, MaryAnn Heuston would have stopped this cold.

    Want to see more trees, take a walk on our bike path.

  3. Old Taxpayer says:

    Okay, they were scheduled to be cut down anyway. So let’s just make the best of it. Maybe we confiscate the lumber from the trees and use it to build something for the ever increasing homeless population here in Somerville. If not enough then make beds for those that have no place to sleep. Make lemonade out of lemons. I could be more understanding if they were not going to the chopping block.

  4. missed the point says:

    George, you want us to travel to a special place where we keep the trees? Nice to have trees in your neighborhood. This is not for growth, this is for comfort and convenience to an obnoxious scofflaw group of cyclists. Its Completely unnecessary. I rearranged my day to stand at procession for Officer Remigio, whom I did not know. I doubt any of the tree mourners bothered. Everyone has their causes but equating this with a death is insulting.

  5. Truth says:

    Missed the point, you are so right. How many of the Pols that attended the tree vigil did you see at Officer Remigio’s procession? I’m guessing none, since there was no photo op or video made. What I’d like is for the city to tear down the awful trees they planted in the 80’s and 90’s. We in the neighborhoods have discovered as the trees mature that there is a huge problem with their sap. During certain times of the year if you even park near the tree your car is completely covered with sticky sap that is difficult to remove. I have even felt the sticky sap in the middle of the street. I’m guessing these trees must have been on clearance or something because I don’t know anyone who would want them!

  6. Believer in the Constitution says:

    A vigil for trees? Are you serious?

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