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Lancaster residents pressure selectmen on Main Street tree plantings

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter
May 30, 2018
LANCASTER — On May 21, roughly 20 residents attended the Lancaster Select Board meeting to discuss the new sidewalk and the future of trees on Main Street. This discussion isn't a new one. During the April 16 board meeting, town business owners questioned the board in regards to the sidewalk construction that is currently underway and others in attendance had questions concerning town beautification and the planting of new trees.

During the meeting on April 16, Lancaster resident Lucy Wyman began, "It came to my attention, although it's been a continuing issue in town about trees on Main Street. Specifically here on the historic block, obviously they're in really bad shape."

Wyman continued, "I get the sense that there isn't a lot of interest in seeing that there were trees planted. It's come to my attention recently that the town has a plan to redo the sidewalks on Main Street. This seems like the perfect time to address this."

At that same meeting, Town Manager Ed Samson replied to Wyman, "We've prepped the area and allowed for a ring of protection. We will plant trees in the six openings after we identify which species will thrive."

Over the course of the ensuing few weeks, residents noticed that one of the rings where a tree was supposed to be planted was rolled over and filled with cement. Lancaster resident Melissa Grella reached out to Samson and asked that the project be put on pause until further discussions regarding trees could take place. Samson placed the discussion on the agenda, and so it began.

Grella addressed the board, "It was my understanding, at the end of the last meeting, that we were going to do some homework on our end to figure out what trees to plant. My other understanding was that there would be holes left in the sidewalk for the trees to give us some time to plan moving forward. We heard through other channels that there would be no trees planted, so I just want to make sure we're still on the same page."

Grella added, "I know Jeff Highland gave us some great information on how to care for the trees and what species will work best and there were about seven or eight that he suggested along with how to plant them."

Samson responded, "Well, I'm the one that told you we were going to leave the rings. At the last meeting, I indicated that I planned to leave the rings in place. Lucy Wyman did come in following that meeting and provided me with all of the documentation she had received from a couple of different specialists, and I read it extensively and re-read it and read it again, and looked at other references that they offered, and I learned about the trees that were recommended. In reading that, I learned that it takes roughly 100 square feet to adequately address the issue, so none of that would have worked with the rings."

Samson continued, "The sidewalk project is underway, and the plan is to complete the sidewalks and during that process we'll identify places where we can plant the trees. The depth is more significant than we have done in the past. We have to make sure that there is no infrastructure there that will be compromised by the type of base that we must prepare.

"I have reached out to a potential funding source that would possibly assist us, and I will have a better understanding later this week. In the meantime, the plan is to complete the renovations of the sidewalks. The trees still growing will stay," said Samson.

Grella mentioned that Highland would be happy to meet with the board and present them with a city scape.

"The Dow Fund, which I believe has $23,000 and change in it…we weren't sure if that was being used anymore for trees," said Grella.

Samson replied, "There are two issues with that. That was in 1932 when it was put in place. In 1960, James Dow died and it was overseen by Adelaide Monahan, who oversaw the group, and as instructed, they did something with some monies annually. The will also states that if the fund was inactive for five years, the fund was to go to help the needy, and the trust would dissolve. In 1992, that was apparently identified, that Adelaide had died and it had become inactive." Samson said that there was a motion before the court to have those funds transferred to the conservation commission, and that he has not found any documentation that the court ruled on that. Samson asked the town's attorney about the issue more than a month ago.

"There is about $24,000 in that fund for which the interest can be spent. The original fund was $7,000, but that might plant one tree," explained Samson.

Some in attendance questioned winter maintenance, and how the trees may disrupt an easier path to clean up snow and ice. Selectman Leon Rideout called on Rev. Don Williams to speak, and Williams began, "I believe the sidewalks should be done first. After that, we talk about the trees. I'm not so crazy about trees on the sidewalk; what's the matter with these round tubs where you can put flowers and such? I'd rather see that than the trees because I'm afraid as years go by, that the ground may not hold up and trees will be uprooted."

Resident Barry Roberts chimed in, "Maybe we should clear cut the whole town."

Roberts added, "I grew up in Lancaster. I was born and raised here, and I remember Main Street lined with Elm trees, and it wasn't the salt on the road that killed them; it was Dutch Elm disease. And those trees were thriving; they were probably 100 years old. There's no reason why you can't come up with a tree that will grow. I can understand why they won't grow now because you have compacted pressure running; nothing will grow in that. You can't even get a blade of grass to grow."

Samson said, "Barry, you will also understand as well as I that in that era of those trees, there was a million times less traffic through there on a daily basis. There was not the pollutant from the traffic, nor was the road salted to the extent it's used today."

Roberts said, "I know that there are other towns that have trees on their Main Street and they seem to be doing fine. I don't see why we can't leave an eight foot block out of that concrete jungle you're putting in down there and plant some trees in there and put some good soil down."

Samson assured Roberts that the research to do just that is taking place.

To close out the discussion and offer clarity, Rideout said, "We don't have a timeline, but I envision us having something put together so we can plant them at the proper time next year. I prefer that we put trees in and we will do that as soon as we get all of the information."

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