Despite pleas from a group of Shirley residents to save a 200-year-old white pine in Center Cemetery, town officials say it must come down to stop its sprawling roots from further damaging a historic burial plot.
Town Administrator David Berry said the Board of Selectmen voted at its meeting Monday to remove the tree. A contractor is scheduled to take it down Thursday.
“The overriding concern is to protect the plot and stop all future possible damage, whether it’s from continuing growth or falling down,’’ Berry said. “It’s a very historic burial ground, and contains the headstones of many well-known Shirley residents.’’
The Eastern white pine, which is about 150 feet tall with a trunk about 7 feet in diameter at its base, stands in the middle of the Whitney family plot. Berry said the roots are extensive, and are creating some damage to the headstones and an iron railing around the plot.
He said the Whitneys were prominent residents in the early days of the town. The cemetery, in Shirley Center, dates to the 1700s.
The decision to remove the pine has stunned residents who were working on a plan that they say would not only save the tree but restore and protect the plot from future damage. They say they don’t understand whyselectmen won’t give them more time.
“The tree is the most prominent landscape feature of the common,’’ said resident Janet Tice, who lives on Whitney Road, about an eighth of a mile from the cemetery. “When it’s gone, it’s going to make a huge impact by its absence. It’s gorgeous and it’s going to leave a major void when it’s removed. It’s just so sad because it doesn’t need to happen.’’
None of the three members of the Board of Selectmen — chairman Armand Deveau, Kendra Dumont and David Swain — responded to requests for a comment.
Tice said all she and other residents are asking for is a little more time to have the tree professionally tested to determine its health. She said the group has already raised money to pay for the testing privately, without town funds. If it is healthy, the residents would raise funds and seek grant money to pay for the pruning and cabling of the tree, and restoration of any damaged headstones.
“The tree has stood for over 200 years — we need it to stand another few months, long enough to bring our plans to fruition,’’ Tice said.
Already, the group has used its own funds to pay for a professional arborist to perform a visual inspection of the tree, Tice said.
They also met with the head conservator at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, who toured the site and recommended strategies for restoring the headstones, and raised the $600 necessary to perform a densitometer test to determine the tree’s health and soundness.
Berry said selectmen held a public hearing in August to discuss the fate of the tree and decided at that time to take it down.
But after hearing concerns from residents, they held off. A small task force was set up to investigate the tree’s health, and after a meeting with an arborist, Berry said, the selectmen decided they were ready to move forward.
“There was a process that was followed,’’ Berry said. “The board felt comfortable enough to go ahead and implement its decision.’’
Tice said she was taken aback by the board’s decision because she thought the selectmen were working with the residents to come up with a compromise solution.
“It just seems so misguided yet we are not able to do anything to change the selectmen’s minds,’’ Tice said. “The selectmen have just dug their heels in and nobody quite understands why. We thought we were working in good faith with the selectmen’s blessing.”
Berry said he and the selectmen have received several e-mails from residents requesting more time since Monday’s decision, but the removal remained on schedule for Thursday. He said the removal is expected to cost about $3,300. Once the tree is removed, Berry said, the town can work on a plan for restoring the plot.
“We would like to do that and it would be the next step, but to prevent further damage, it’s necessary to take the tree down,’’ Berry said.
Ellen Iorio, who lives on Common Road, is among the residents asking selectmen to reconsider their decision.
“This seems to be a harsh and punitive decision,’’ she wrote in an e-mail to Berry and the selectmen. “As the closest neighbor, I request that the selectmen reconsider their decision and wait until the testing is performed to determine if the tree is healthy. The beautiful white pine has been standing through numerous storms over the past 150+ years. Will a couple of months really make a difference?’’