Prospect Street oaks will be coming down

The tall red oak trees that line Prospect Street by the library will be taken down next week. Two have fallen in recent years. —Macklin Reid photo

Tall and majestic, but without enough roots to anchor them firmly in the earth, Prospect Street’s great oaks are coming down.

Early next week the town plans to remove century-old trees that loom over the sidewalk along the library property and Prospector Theater site.

The seven red oaks “represent an immediate and unacceptable risk to the public walking on our sidewalks as well as those driving on Prospect or Main Street,” Tree Warden John Pinchbeck said in a letter sent to the first selectman’s office Monday.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi agreed with Mr. Pinchbeck’s assessment: The big oaks have to be taken down.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve had two trees that have fallen in good weather conditions — not due to severe weather — that exhibited absolutely no root structure whatsoever. They have no roots,” Mr. Marconi said.

“Rather than wait for strike three, we would rather be proactive and remove them now.”

The need for the decision became clear when another of the trees in the area fell recently into the library’s construction project.

“The structural integrity of the new $20-million library will also be at risk,” Mr. Pinchbeck said.

The tree fell on a portion of the library that had already been demolished, and no one on the work site or on Prospect Street was injured, Mr. Pinchbeck said

The previous fall was a couple of years ago and down the street, with the tree landing on a Yankee Ridge building near Dimitri’s. The building was not damaged, but the tree “just missed a car heading down Prospect Street,” Mr. Pinchbeck said. “We were very lucky.”

Mr. Pinchbeck described the problem. “These trees were planted many years ago in small openings in the sidewalk. Since then they have grown out into the street, where passing trucks and cars have made contact with the base of the trees, weakening their structure and allowing insects to invade the trees.”

Each of the trees that fell recently had “a very limited root structure,” and they were unstable as a result, Mr. Pinchbeck said.

The red oak on Prospect Street near the library showed almost no roots after it fell recently. —John Pinchbeck photo

“We believe that all of the remaining trees are in a similar state. Therefore, these aged and weakened trees will be removed commencing on March 5th,” he said.

“We expect the work to take two days (weather permitting). During this time Prospect Street will be closed to through traffic from the Bailey Avenue intersection up to Main Street.

“We regret any inconvenience this may cause,” he said. “However, this will allow the work to progress at a much more rapid pace.”

Taking the trees down will cost about $5,000, according to Mr. Marconi.

“We would like to plant new trees; however, the feeling is they should be on the inside of the stone wall, and permission from the library would be necessary to do so,” Mr. Marconi said.

Mr. Pinchbeck is hopeful

“We’re hoping to get them behind the stone wall, if there’s enough space between the library and stone wall. That’s up to the library,” he said. “So we’d have to choose trees that are a little bit smaller maybe.”

Mr. Pinchbeck said he isn’t as worried by the big trees on Main Street in front of the library.

“The Main Street trees are more stable because they have more space for the roots to grow,” he said. “They’re not just stuck between a sidewalk and the street.”

If you look closely at this antique postcard picture, you’ll see three sapling trees planted along the sidewalk of the Ridgefield Library on Prospect Street. All three, now more than a century old, will soon be chopped down. The card, printed in Germany, is postmarked September 1910, but it’s likely that the photograph was taken at least a year or two earlier. The ‘new’ library was dedicated and opened in June 1903. —

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  • CMcQuilken

    I think it’s no coincidence that a tree fell after a construction hole was dug 10 feet away. Go look at it. Broken roots can clearly be seen protruding from the side of the hole. I view this as trickle down from the library construction. I’m not saying anyone is at fault. It’s inevitable, you dig a hole for a new building so close to trees, then it’s no surprise to me that the tree roots get compromised.

    But something to consider. We will spend money to remove the trees and replace them. It’s a small thing, but in a sense, it’s indicative of a bigger issue that I think plays out often in Ridgefield. We take on projects and believe the cost will be $X. But things happen, costs go up, financial predictions don’t pan out.

    * We build a Rec Center and are told it will be profitable. It wasn’t.

    * We buy a golf driving range and are told it will be profitable. It wasn’t.

    * We convert the Venus building to offices and are told it will be profitable. It wasn’t.

    I could go on and on. Tiger Hollow. Ridgefield Playhouse, The Bundle, The Community Center, The Teen Barn, the ball fields, Barlow Pool, etc. We are told the finances will be one thing, but inevitably it costs more than we thought.

    I think this is the root cause as to why Ridgefield’s tax burden is higher than other towns. We buy into all these well-meaning ideas thinking it will cost us $X. But the costs always seem to climb higher.

    I agree the trees should now come down. But I’d like to see the library help cover the costs. Maybe when the beautiful new library is completed, they could pay for the addition of the new trees on their property, rather than turning to the taxpayers for the money. IMHO.

  • jt93

    Where will the old trees go? Who sells the wood? Can they be included in the reno of the library? Milled for flooring perhaps. It would be a shame for them to go up in smoke. I’m sure the wood is wort quite a bit.

  • CMcQuilken

    jt93, what a wonderful idea, to preserve this piece of Ridgefield history. I could see the wood being used somewhere in the building (even in the new movie theater), with the photos from 1910 and 2013 being hung right there, along with an explanation about saving the wood..

    I believe the trees are coming down this week. If the library is reading this website, maybe you could look into jt93’s idea. I checked with the internet and the cost to turn the tree trunks into flooring planks is very low. The whole cutting project should cost less than $1,000. Sounds like a bargain price for a really good story lasting the next 100 years.

  • CMcQuilken

    Update: I spoke with a town worker at the site. He said several of the tree trunks have been saved and will be milled into wood which will be used in the new movie theater. jt93, well done!

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