Dan Churella said at a virtual meeting last Thursday that the problem is especially apparent with a large public tree, which under current policy can be replaced with a much smaller tree, or a payment of $500 to a tree replacement fund.
“This is nuts,” he declared. “You can cut down a 36-inch tree and replace it with a two-and-a-half-inch tree.”
Churella presented a detailed spreadsheet with examples of more stringent mitigation requirements in several cities and towns, including Lexington, Concord, Arlington, Medford, and Wellesley.
For removal of a 36-inch tree, Medford at $300 an inch would charge $10,800. Wellesley assesses $250 an inch to replace a tree between 21 and 75 inches in diameter. So a three-foot tree would cost $9,000. Lexington at $200 an inch would charge $7,200.
Many of the requirements are bylaws, he pointed out. “If you want to influence what people can do in the setbacks, for instance, it has to be in a bylaw. It’s more challenging to get a bylaw passed, but you get what you pay for,” Churella observed.
There should be significant penalties for non-compliance, he added; Medford, for example, charges $500 for each day work proceeds without necessary tree removal approvals. Newton charges $300 and issues a stop-work order.
Longtime committee member Jaci Edwards said she would try to draft some policy revisions for the committee to consider, and then deliver them to the Select Board soon.
Churella also pointed out that, under current policy, “you can cut down a forest the size of a football field and replace it with a single three-inch tree in the center of each 10-yard line. This is bonkers.” The monetary mitigation option for an acre of public trees is $5,000.
Also, the chair suggested the town require alternatives to chipping trees that are removed. “There can be substantial lumber in a tree. Make it policy to use it when possible,” he said.
Bedford should consider requiring a permit, with a nominal fee, for removal of any private trees, Churella proposed. The intent isn’t to interfere with the use of private property, he said; rather, “that mechanism would allow the town to know what trees are being cut, and I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
This will engender resistance, Edwards predicted, citing personal experience with the committee. Her colleague Dan Smythe suggested dropping the word “permit.” Churella replied, “At this point I just want the concept.”
“What can we realistically do within the bounds of our current tree policy? We can easily do all this stuff,” Churella asserted.
Also, Public Works Director David Manugian told the committee that a tree master plan has been included in the Select board’s fiscal 2023 goals, set in conjunction with the town manager.
Manugian said he envisions an allocation of funds for fiscal year 2024, with “tentative plans to hire a consultant who works in this area, and who will work with BARC and town staff to develop a master plan.”
“This is such great news,” said Churella. “It will allow us to actually start planting trees. This will be all about planting and maintenance much more than taking trees down.” He thanked Manugian for his advocacy.
He asked if there will be a “development committee” to formulate the master plan. “We haven’t gone into that organization process yet, but BARC will have the primary role,” Manugian answered.
Edwards advised that the committee work to ensure that Town Meeting approve spending for the master plan. “You never know what is going to happen at Town Meeting so we had better be prepared.”
“The master plan is completely different than a tree policy or bylaws,” Churella commented. “Somerville’s is 385 pages. They are planting 200 to 300 trees a year.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763