By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
Tree Warden Don Collasius went before the Fairhaven Select Board on September 13 in response to what Chairperson Bob Espindola referred to as “some questions about some trees that were removed.”
After Mr. Collasius’s short video presentation, he said that he had coordinated with Eversource to remove a number of dangerous trees under his jurisdiction, saying, “We got a lot of the bad trees that we need to out of the way.”
The process he used fell under M.G.L. Ch. 87, he continued, the law that pertains to tree wardens and public shade trees, which he said he had learned much about through access to a Massachusetts Tree Wardens and Foresters Association tree warden qualification class.
“Taking those trees down was the right thing to do,” said Mr. Collasius.
“I did it legally,” he continued, but then added that if he were to do it all over again, he would do it differently and “use another vehicle” or “chapter under the law.”
He promised that he would hold duly posted public hearings for trees to be felled in the future but said, “I truly believe that they (the trees felled) were all quite dangerous.”
Under Ch. 87 Section 14, the law states that no public hearing is required when a utility removes a hazard tree, exempting it from the requirements of Sections 3 and 5, provided that the utility company has submitted an annual hazard tree plan outlining hazard tree work to be performed in the town and subsequently approved by the tree warden.
When Director of Planning & Economic Development Paul Foley addressed the matter, he said the current tree warden legislation was written in 1899, and the procedure for working with utility companies on hazard trees “isn’t spelled out.” He referred to Eversource’s and Mr. Collasius’s list of 63 trees, saying that only three were categorized as “dead,” and five were listed as “dying.” He said he would not consider that list a “plan,” though.
In a followup phone interview, Mr. Foley also noted that the utility and Mr. Collasius did not wait the required 90 days between creating the plan and cutting down the trees.
He also noted that according to Section 6 of MGL Chapter 87, violations of Sec. 3, 4, or 5 should result in a fine of $500 per tree/violation.
Mr. Foley gave a visual presentation outlining what he wants to see happen, starting with a survey he hopes to fund through a 50/50 grant to provide the Town $20,000 with a $20,000 match. That survey would include an inventory and lead to a management plan and subsequent bylaw surrounding public trees. In his presentation, he opposed any future public tree removals without public hearings or professional oversight. He said the Select Board should review the tree cutting that has taken place and create a memorandum of understanding for procedures until a local bylaw is in place.
“We don’t want to see what just happened recently,” said Mr. Foley. “There’s a process that needs to be followed, and the process was not followed properly, and I don’t want that to happen again.”
He further suggested that the Town needs a full-time arborist, which a study from 15 years ago also recommended, to develop a long-term management plan.
Mr. Foley also suggested creating a local tree bylaw to strengthen notification requirements and accountability for all tree work and clarify definitions, require record keeping, establish jurisdictions (such as emergencies), and provide methods and input for planting, maintenance, protection, and removal of trees.
The deadline to submit a letter of intent for the matching grant is October 1, Mr. Foley said, with a November 1 deadline for the application. The board’s vote was unanimous in support of the application.
Mr. Foley reiterated that tree removals require public notice, a hearing, and a posting on the tree.
“He (Mr. Collasius) just stated that he was going to do that, so that’s a good thing,” said Select Board member Stasia Powers.
Mr. Foley added that a solid protocol in writing should be put in place.
Ms. Powers commented, “I am so glad to see this happening … Nothing’s been proactive (in the past), so this is great that [you all] are being proactive…. We’ve never done a canopy survey, so this is fantastic.”
Mr. Espindola brought up Mr. Collasius’s past concerns about resources, given that he only has a $3,200 budget for tree removal.
“Eventually, we’re going to need to figure out a way to have the resources available so this work can be done on an annual basis,” said Mr. Espindola.
“I still think you should look at exactly what happened,” said Mr. Foley. “Because 63 trees is pretty outrageous, as far as I’m concerned, and I’m certain that it wasn’t done by the law.”
“Once we have a plan and we bring it before the voters, I’m sure that they’ll give him more money to do what he needs to do – if he has a good plan,” said Interim Town Administrator Wendy Graves,
In closing, Mr. Collasius thanked the Police Department for its assistance during a recent midnight emergency call requiring the removal of a large limb that fell onto communication cables.
Mr. Foley’s full presentation was not shown at the meeting; to access it, visit our website, www.neighbnews. com, and go to 2021 archives to find this week’s issue. It includes the list of 63 trees removed.
In another matter, Paul Zekos from Zekos Group Auctioneers, which is organizing the Town’s tax possession auction on September 28, gave an overview of the bidding process for the various vacant lots and two properties with buildings, one commercial and one residential.
Conservation Agent Whitney McClees spoke briefly about her interest in a number of those parcels containing wetlands that she would like to see transferred to the Conservation Commission.
“I don’t understand why we don’t retain those instead of auctioning them because we want to maintain that open space,” said Ms. Powers.
Mr. Zekos then suggested that the board only discuss the matter in executive session because such a conversation could “devalue your assets.”
Resident Martin Lomp, accompanied by his wife, Janice, asked to present his case for adverse possession of the abutting lot(s) to his residence at 21 Buist Avenue. According to the Lomps, they have been maintaining and using the grassy parcel next door for 23 years since they bought their house.
However Ms. Graves advised the board that the Town cannot legally convey a tax possession property privately to an individual; it can only be done through a process that allows for public bidding, she said.
Mr. Lomp said he had a legitimate claim for adverse possession and was working on filing one in order to acquire the abutting lot to make his lot conforming. He asked if the Town could resolve the matter with the Lomps before the auction.
“Mass General Law does not allow us to sell a tax title property to an individual, there’s no way around that,” Ms. Graves said.
“So, that answers that question,” replied Mr. Lomp. He further stated that if they cannot buy the lots, then they would pursue an adverse possession claim against the new buyer and asserted that the Town should at least disclose that the lots were being contested ahead of the auction to caution any potential buyers, saying, “[That] would be helpful to our cause.”
Mr. Zekos again emphasized the need to discuss these real estate matters in executive session, adding, “This isn’t about what doesn’t sell will go to [the Conservation Commission]; it’s about properties that were held back that were more sizable.”
He referred to some lots that were 2, 3, and 6 acres in size that were all excluded from the auction.
“It’s important for people to understand a lot of time and effort went into putting the sale together,” said Mr. Zekos.
He emphasized the importance of fairness and transparency in the matter and said putting it out there for anyone to participate in the auction is essential.
“This is a good thing that you’re doing for the community,” said Mr. Zekos.
He reiterated that the Lomps stated that they would not buy the property for $50,000 at auction but that they would be prepared to file a lawsuit over it.
“What do you think a lawsuit is going to cost?” he asked, prompting the Lomps to become vocal, leading to Mr. Espindola’s pounding of the gavel to regain order.
Ms. Powers repeated her desire to hold an executive session in the near future to discuss the conservation interest in the unspecified properties Ms. McClees alluded to, saying she needed to understand the properties that were pulled from the auction versus the ones that were not. That executive session was not scheduled that evening.
Also during the meeting, Ms. Graves said she has refinanced the $5,225,000 Wood School bond. When she originally borrowed the money back in 2013, Ms. Graves said the interest rate was between 2.5-4%. This time, she said she sold the bond for 0.9999%, the lowest of eight bids received. This will save the Town $861,207 over 12 years, or roughly $72,000 a year. The board voted to sign the bonds.
The board also voted to support submitting the state application to place the Rogers School on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the state receives the packet and approves it, the Town will receive the federal application the board will need to sign. By adding the old school to the National Register, a developer could receive 20% tax cuts for qualifying renovation projects.
The board also voted 2-1, with Mr. Silvia oposed, to sign a letter in support of H.3948, the act under state legislative review to increase the Select Board from three members to five.
In other business:
• The board set a tentative date of Tuesday, December 14, to hold a Special Town Meeting. Once the board receives input from other town boards and entities, a date will be solidified.
• Mr. Silvia reported that the Historical Commission has received donations for the new streetlamp to be installed near Town Hall, the $25,000 streetlamp that Town Meeting declined to fund during the 2021 Annual Town Meeting. According to Mr. Silvia, commission member Wayne Oliveira, and Vicki Oliveira created a brochure to solicit donations for the historical reproduction-style streetlamp, while Town Accountant Anne Carreiro set up a gift account to receive the donations.
• The Police Department accepted a $7,500 donation from BASK to help fund the department’s new K-9 program.
• The board approved a free public screening of resident Alyssa Botelho’s newest short film in the Town Hall auditorium on October 1 at 7 p.m. “To Dust All Return,” is a 9-minute film set in the early 1700s with a theme of witchcraft. A hundred attendees maximum, and mask-wearing will be enforced.
• Leon Correy, Greg Weider, John Hinds, Diane Hahn, Kylie Bateman, Geoffrey Haworth, and Jessica Fidalgo were all appointed to the Belonging Committee. Natalie Mello was appointed to the Historical Commission as an associate member.
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