"IF A TREE DOESN'T FALL IN THE FOREST, AND NOBODY CARES TO HEAR IT, WOULD MR. CREAMER STILL MAKE A SOUND?
If we’re going to make a mountain out of a molehill, or a forest out of a tree, let’s at least get our facts straight.
McGilpin Road is going to be paved. As part of that work, Tom Chamberland, the Tree Warden, walked along the Road, looked at the trees, and guessed at which ones were “Hazard” Trees. There is no written standard or by-law in the Town of Sturbridge defining what constitutes a Hazard Tree - the Tree Warden just relies on his gut. Or, as he told me at one meeting, if the DPW director feels a tree might be in the way, the Tree Warden designates it as a Hazard Tree. The 150+/- year-old oak across from 117 McGilpin Road, a.k.a. Tree 25, was labeled a Hazard Tree under this less than rigorous “system”.
One of the residents on the Road called a licensed arborist. This arborist conducted a resistograph test on Tree 25. The resistograph’s motor drives a specially engineered drill bit into the wood at a constant speed and graphs the results on a waterproof wax paper printout. As the drill penetrates the wood, resistance is used to determine decay presence or absence. This test indicated that Tree 25 was not rotted, or in danger of falling, and that further inquiry was warranted. If that test had showed that the Tree was in poor health, I, as well as all the neighbors I spoke to, agreed that it should be cut down.
At the Planning Board hearing of September 27, 2007, more than a dozen McGilpin Road residents asked that Tree 25 not be designated a “hazard” tree under the Shade Tree By-law or the Scenic Road By-law until further investigation into its health was done.
Mr. Creamer, who, as Planning Board Chairman, is responsible for preserving trees along scenic roads in Town, rejected the idea of a continuance and stated that the residents should appeal the Shade Tree By-law to the Board of Selectmen. The residents were disappointed that he was not responsive to their concerns, but assumed they could go forward in good faith.
Linda Cocalis and I spoke to the Tree Warden after the meeting. He told us then, and repeatedly from that day forward, that he would love to preserve large, old Heritage Trees like this one, throughout Town. He also told us that he didn’t have the funds, the manpower, or a Tree Committee with the infrastructure that would allow him to do so. Linda and I asked if the Tree was healthy, if we could get the funding, and if we helped the Tree Warden form a Tree Committee, would he be comfortable preserving this and other Heritage Trees? He told us repeatedly that that would solve all his problems and allow him to bring tree care to the next level in Sturbridge.
Linda Cocalis found a grant for the Tree Warden to apply for at the DCR. She helped him gather his data and called the DCR repeatedly, lobbying hard for this grant. She argued that a Tree Warden who was trying to bring tree care to the next level, coupled with a neighborhood that cared about their heritage trees, deserved this grant. Mr. Chamberland applied for the grant, and got two thousand dollars to preserve five trees on McGilpin Road all of which are smaller in diameter than Tree 25. However, he purposefully left Tree 25 off of the grant application.
I hired an arborist to examine the Tree with a resistograph and write a full report on the Tree. Mr. Chamberland attended and witnessed the examination by the arborist of Tree 25. Mr. Chamberland not only questioned the arborist regarding the use of a resistograph, which he had never used, but he also chose many of the spots that the arborist tested. The arborist determined that the Tree was in good health, but that it would be beneficial to install three cables ($150-250 apiece) and do some pruning ($200-300) to promote its ideal health. Considering that Mr. Chamberland estimated that it would cost $1000 to cut Tree 25 down, not to mention $300-500 for stump removal, and that with the proposed work Tree 25 might live for decades, the cost seemed within reason to Linda, Mr. Chamberland and myself.
Linda and I then worked many hours to help Mr. Chamberland create the Town Tree Committee, including identifying potential projects for the Tree Committee, drafting by-laws and standards, drafting a proposal for the Board of Selectmen and even finding people willing to sit on the Tree Committee. We had long meetings and phone calls with Mr. Chamberland. We also sent all of our drafts to Mr. Chamberland to confirm that all was in accordance with his vision for tree care in Town. We did this work not only to preserve Tree 25, but for all of the Town’s Heritage Trees.
Mr. Chamberland and I made a joint presentation to the Board of Selectmen (all of which had been reviewed and pre-approved by Mr. Chamberland). The Board agreed to revoke Tree 25’s Hazard status, based on the arborist’s report and Mr. Chamberland’s recommendation, and to allow the formation of a Tree Committee, despite the fact that Mr. Chamberland was suddenly very negative about the proposal at the meeting.
Why had Mr. Chamberland switched gears and become so negative? And why did he ask for funding to be approved at the Special Town Meeting, instead of as part of his overall budget in April? I did not support this funding request. I feel that it was inappropriate to request non-emergency funds outside of the annual budget.
Why did he tell the Finance Committee that Tree 25 should be cut down, despite the fact that he was asking them for funding to preserve it? When the Finance Committee voted “no action”, effectively removing the item from the Special Town Meeting, why did Mr. Chamberland then make a special motion during the meeting to put the issue back up for vote? Why did he ask the residents at the January 28, 2008 Town Meeting to deny the funding that he had just proposed again? Linda and I certainly did not ask him to.
Perhaps because Mr. Creamer, our Chairman of the Planning Board, has made cutting this tree down his cause célèbre. He wants you to focus on one tree rather than larger issues like sewer or a new elementary school. Mr. Creamer (who does not even live on McGilpin Road) has written countless vindictive blog and newspaper reports regarding Tree 25. Mr. Creamer has posted satellite pictures of the neighborhood on his blog, with derogatory commentary. He has, in letters and articles in the local newspapers, in his blog and verbally at televised public meetings, mocked the proposed Town Tree Committee and ridiculed the funding proposed by the Tree Warden to safeguard Tree 25 and other trees in Sturbridge.
From the September 27 Planning Board Hearing to the present, Mr. Creamer has harassed the residents of McGilpin Road, the Selectmen and the Goodwin family regarding Tree 25. Is Mr. Chamberland afraid of Mr. Creamer? Maybe. Or maybe he and his brother Russ Chamberland (who is on the Planning Board) have jumped onto Mr. Creamer’s bandwagon.
Don’t blame the Selectmen for doing what their Tree Warden, a group of residents and scientific evidence indicated they should do. Don’t vilify McGilpin Road residents or the Goodwins because you disagree on this small issue. Finally, keep your eye on the ball. Mr. Creamer should stop spreading bile and start doing his job and conduct himself as an unbiased, productive Planning Board Chairman for the Town of Sturbridge.
Finally, Mr. Creamer, despite your claims, I am not a coward, a bully, or an elitist, nor am I disgusting. This is the first time I have written a word about this Tree in any forum. I did not leave Mr. Chamberland in the lurch – quite the opposite. I am a resident of Sturbridge, a mother and an attorney that is trying to take care of my family while donating time and energy to my hometown. I make excellent cheesecake, need to lose 15 pounds (maybe a little more) and play guitar very poorly. In other words, I’m an average person who deserves a little respect from their town officials.
The people you have targeted are good, honest, caring people who are invested in the town they call home. Take a break Mr. Creamer, and try to remember that whether a tree falls or not, we are all still neighbors.
Kirstie L. Pecci
138 McGilpin Road
Sturbridge, MA 01566"