By Beth David, Editor
In a rather convoluted process over two meetings, the Fairhaven Select Board removed a Town Meeting article for a shade tree bylaw that the Planning Board has been working on since last September.
At their 5/9 meeting, after a presentation by Town Planner Paul Foley and comments by Planning Board Chairperson Wayne Hayward, the SB voted to remove the article; than at their 5/12 meeting, discussed it again, to possibly reconsider.
But the decision to remove it remained.
Tree Warden Don Collasius was against the bylaw. He was in favor of the proposed change to make his position appointed with the appointing authority being the Town Administrator.
The SB voted in support of Mr. Collasius’s opinions on both articles.
In neither meeting did SB Chairperson Stasia Powers disclose her close personal relationship with Mr. Collasius and his wife.
The bylaw would require that tree hearings be held in conjunction with another board, such as planning, SB or Conservation. Mr. Foley said it would strengthen notification and accountability.
Last summer, Mr. Collasius cut down 62 shade trees using Eversource, saying he had no requirement to hold a single public hearing on any of the trees. The SB did not admonish Mr. Collasius at that time and Mr. Powers also did not disclose her close relationship with him and his wife at that time.
Mass. General Law requires a 90 day waiting period when utilities submit a plan to cut down trees, but it does not say what should happen during those 90 days. The proposed bylaw would have required public hearings with other boards, not just stand alone tree hearings.
Mr. Foley said shade trees have great value: they cool the town in summer and provide aesthetic value. It will take 30-40 years for a newly planted tree to provide the kind of shade that the removed trees provided.
The bylaw also would require an annual inventory and assessment to create a plan for trees, such as trimming dangerous limbs.
The arguments against the bylaw ranged from it costing more to run the department, as it requires a deputy tree warden to be certified in a number of areas, to a concern that it would put more work on the TA, to an assertion that there has been no problem with the removal of shade trees except for last year.
“I feel this is a snap reaction to an isolated event,” said SB Vice Chair Leon Correy, adding that policy should not be made based on a “one time thing that people didn’t like.”
Mr. Collasius said in principal the bylaw was good.
“However, in practice, I don’t know how to say this. I think in practice this is absurd,” said Mr. Collasius. “Your tree warden is already a pseudo volunteer job.”
The position pays $7,200/year, he said and he puts in more than 20 hours a week. But, he said, he is okay with that.
“I did this because I want to make the shade canopy better in this town,” he said.
When SB member Charlie Murphy asked if the bylaw was created with input from the Tree Warden, Mr. Collasius laughed loudly from his spot in the corner, sure to be heard by everyone.
“I think a lot was learned last year with what happened, with many trees coming down,” said SB member Bob Espindola, adding that did not “envision that happening again without a little better communication.”
Mr. Foley reiterated that the bylaw would just add more notifications and standard record keeping. He said there is no plan, no records to know where trees are being planted or taken down.
Ms. Powers said she was not saying those things should not happen, but she was not sure they should be in a bylaw.
SB member Keith Silvia said he thought the bylaw was “fine,” but they needed to find money to fund it.
Mr. Hayward emphasized that changing the tree warden position from elected to appointed, which he is against, has nothing to do with the shade tree bylaw.
He said the tree canopy in town is not in good shape because unqualified people have been in the tree warden position. And people should not come home from work one day to find a shade tree in front of their house has been taken down.
When asked if he has hearings and if they are televised, Mr. Collasius assured the board that they were.
At the 5/12 meeting, the vote to remove the article form the warrant was affirmed.
Mr. Espindola wanted to revisit the article saying that the Planning Board did the work so it was really their article and the SB should not withdraw it but let Town Meeting decide.
Ms. Ellison said Town Counsel Town Crotty told her that department articles are petitioned by the SB so they can remove them. The only articles they cannot remove are citizens petitions.
In the end, he said he would stick with his vote to remove the article as long as he was assured that there would be a fall TM.
Ms. Ellison assured the board that their would be.
Both meetings are available for livestreaming at FairhavenTV.com
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