Letter to the editor : from former member of the Tree Commission Cecily Frazier

To Mayor Tortarella and Members of the Rhinebeck Village Board:
I am writing regarding the removal of a number of trees in the Village.
I love trees as much as you do, perhaps more, so as a former member of the Tree Commission, and as an officer in other groups, I am disappointed that you did not follow the advice of those charged to give advice nor did you listen to professionals in the field. You did not credit the members of the Tree Commission with knowing what was best, and instead decided to take this issue upon yourselves. If you have a group that is entrusted by your fellow board members with giving you advice, especially when the members of the group have special skills and abilities that you yourselves do not have, then you should take their advice. Otherwise you should disband the group because you have no confidence in their judgment. I am speaking of course of the Tree Commission. In addition to their recommendations, you also have advice from professionals — tree people from Central Hudson, whose recommendation was to remove 127 trees. Yes, they are anxious to get rid of trees that are expensive to prune and may imperil the lines, but they are professionals with a tremendous depth of knowledge. To have all the members of the Village Board traipsing around the Village evaluating trees seems like an incredible waste of time and effort. Now you have asked the citizens to go out and evaluate the trees. How many of these people are knowledgeable about defects in trees? Can they recognize the invasive Norway Maple from others? Do they know which trees are regularly clogging the storm drains or which, when heavy with leaves, rest on the electric lines?
It is extremely difficult to evaluate the health of trees, particularly in winter. I was on the Tree Commission for 5 years, am a trained Master Gardener and have attended a number of workshops on tree health, and still do not feel confident in my ability to evaluate the health of a dormant tree. Perhaps some of you have knowledge of trees that I am not aware of, however I think that if you are honest, most of you do not. A dying tree and a dormant tree look very much alike. At least in summer, an observant inspector can see thinning of the crown, yellowing leaves and other signs of poor health that can be noticed by observing the growth of the tree. In winter, insect activity that is one mark of a failing tree is not visible. Fungal growth is less apparent in winter. Professional arborists at Central Hudson recommended that more than 120 trees be removed. In their work, they see dead and dying trees every day. They know the stress the severe pruning required by their standards puts on an old, already stressed tree. They know that if you prune more than one-third of the live wood it will impair photosynthesis and seriously injure a tree, especially one that is already suffering from Maple Decline, one that is weakened from old age and from warm weather sapping the strength of a cold-climate tree. Some of the trees have had their roots cut from having the sidewalks replaced, seriously destabilizing them. Others have weak crotches and are likely to fail when there is heavy snow or wind. Evaluating trees for defects and risk potential is a complex process, best left to professionals. Although I disagree wholeheartedly, you have chosen to ignore the advice of experts. But sadly we are already far down the road you have chosen.

The canopy along Route 9, as beautiful as it is, is soon to be a thing of the past. Not only does Central Hudson have a legal right to prune, and remove, trees that present a danger to the delivery of electricity, they also have the right to tell us which species of tree we can replant. None of the trees they allow are the large, beautiful species we have now—maple, beech, oak. Under wires, you are required by both Central Hudson and the DOT (on Rte. 9) to plant trees that will not exceed a mature height of 20 feet. The choices can be beautiful trees but they are not 120’ trees whose branches will grow together over the street. Unfortunately not liking the rules does not grant the right to ignore the rules. Electricity—as far as I know—is here to stay and takes priority over trees. After the 2003 blackout, regulations were tightened and rewritten and include requirements not only of the NYS Public Service Commission but also the Federal Government.
I would like to see the lines buried but it will not solve the problem of the traditional street tree. You cannot plant trees over buried wires; tree roots tangle themselves in the underground wires and damage them. The cost of buried wires is very high, more than ten times that of traditional wires, and that does not include the $2000 plus cost that homeowners have to bear to hook up to the underground wires nor the additional money it will cost homeowners to bury cable and phone lines.
I urge you to try to convince Central Hudson to honor into the future their offer of removing trees at the extraordinarily low cost of $60. Normally those trees would cost at least $500 each to remove and probably much more since they are tangled in the wires and dangerous to remove. That is a great price and it would be terrible to find later that you passed up the chance to get them to pay. It would be at the very least a $46,000 mistake, and probably much more.

Most importantly, I ask that this not be a political decision; it should not be a beauty contest nor one in which the loudest voice wins. Show real leadership, be proactive and plan for the future. Monday night’s meeting should not be a popularity contest. Be realistic: take down the dead, sickest and most dangerous trees. Take down the trees that clog the storm drains and already cost the Village money on a regular basis. Take down the Norway Maples, an invasive species, which are suffering from Maple Decline and climate change. Be honest about the future: more trees will come down and soon. Trees all over the Village are mostly old, weakened from disease and lack of good pruning, and suffering from the higher temperatures, cyclical drought and heavy rains which seem to be the hallmark of climate change. Fifty percent of the Village canopy is maples, a cold-weather tree now trying to survive in a warm-weather world. Finally, plant a large number of beautiful, diverse, and appropriate trees back in the lawns where they can have room to grow without lifting sidewalks or suffering the brutal pruning which is the cost of electricity.

Thank you for your attention,
Cecily Frazier