Town Hall elms to come down
Verdant, leafy, and refreshingly shady during summer scorchers, the twin elm trees that frame the Main Street facade of Town Hall may see their last spring this year.
Out of concern for the town’s liability, the two trees will “in all likelihood” be cut down by the end of the year, First Selectman Rudy Marconi told The Press Monday, April 30.
“They are not in great health,” he said. “We have pruned them many times, but we have an obligation as a municipality to avoid liability, and at this point they have to come down.”
“The tree warden’s budget is pretty exhausted at this point, so it would be after July 1 that they would come down,” he added.
The tree felling would be handled by Tree Warden John Pinchbeck, either early in the morning or at night to minimize the impact on traffic.
“They’re big and they’re liable to break off — they don’t look good,” Pinchbeck told The Press Tuesday.
“They shouldn’t be planted where they are. The root zone is too small for the trees — you can tell because they’re pushing against the wall and the sidewalks.”
He said the two trees — Siberian elms — were likely planted sometime in the 1930s.
A resistograph test — a fancy term for a large nail driven into the trunk of the trees to feel for rotten wood — showed that one of the trees had a failure of about 20% on the side facing Town Hall.
Some don’t want the trees removed. At least one person visited Marconi’s office to object when the idea was first raised about a year ago.
“I ask everyone to take a good, hard look at them from a distance, before the leaves are on the trees, and you will see why they have to come down,” Marconi said.
Pinchbeck said a lot of people are against removing the trees, “but they’re not really that great a tree — they’re not aesthetically appealing, and they’re looking kind of scraggly with all the pruning we’ve been doing.”
If a tree were to fall on its own, there’s no telling when or where it would fall.
“The majority of our wind is out of the west, but that’s no way to make any determination which way they’ll come down,” Marconi said.
While the trees may be felled after the leaves have come down in the fall, the first selectman said that might be too late. “If you get a heavy hurricane, that’s a lot of weight with the leaves on the tree,” he said.
Some 40 years ago, the town went to court over an injury caused by a limb falling from one of the trees, Marconi said. The town settled, with the agreement that the town would continue to pay to maintain the trees.
Felling the trees raises a conundrum — where to put the large American flag that hangs from a cable suspended between the two trees from Memorial Day through the Fourth of July.
“We should do a neat contest on it, with a little prize,” Marconi said. “I don’t know what the prize would be, but we can figure that out.”
One possibility would be to suspend the flag on a wire over Main Street. “I’d have to seek permission of the private building owner” on the opposite side of Main Street, Marconi said.
To clear truck traffic, the bottom edge of the flag would have to hang at least 14 feet off the road surface, or possibly higher to account for rainy days. “With the rain the flag stretches,” Marconi explained.
The flag would most likely go somewhere along the stretch of Main Street between Governor and Prospect streets, he said.
Replacing the elms
Also in question is what will go into the empty plots left over from the elm trees — a decision that will be up to the town Tree Committee.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner John Katz suggested at a recent selectmen meeting that private donations might allow the town to put in larger trees to fill space left by the two elms.
“If we can do some fund raising, I’m sure people would certainly appreciate that, but I suspect that there’s a maximum [size] tree that you can put in there,” Marconi told The Press.
He said he hoped to replace the elms with trees around four to six inches in diameter.
“We’ll get a lot of opinions, I’m sure, We’ll pick out the best thing we can,” said Pinchbeck.
What replacement trees go in also hinges on the state’s decision on whether to raise the road surface of Main Street at the curb, in order to re-grade the road.
That project would involve removing the concrete that lies several feet under the tarmac — a recent drilling test of the subsurface cut a borehole 17 feet below the road surface — and would likely take months to complete.