Barnstable Village residents "furious" over tree removal and lack of control over decision

BARNSTABLE VILLAGE — Travelers on Route 6A in Barnstable Village may notice there are fewer trees in bloom along the historic highway this spring.

Eversource, the region’s electric utility, has removed approximately 150 trees from the Yarmouth town line west to Route 132 since February, leaving many village leaders and residents upset and questioning whether appropriate approval procedures were followed.

“As part of a commitment to reduce tree-related (power) outages, we’ve been very active there,” said Eversource spokesman Michael Durand, who noted work is now finished with the exception of one large spruce tree that requires special equipment to remove.

Ann Canedy, a Barnstable Village resident and former town councilor, is not happy about the tree removal project, especially since there is no plan to replace the mature foliage that has become a hallmark of the historic district.

“People along 6A are furious,” she said. “I’m upset with the town for taking a hands-off approach and not standing up to the utility company.”

Alterations to the aesthetics along the road that runs through this change-averse enclave on the north side of Barnstable do not come easy or quickly.

Even the slightest alteration to building exteriors, fences, stone walls and signs are subject to review by the town’s five-member Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee.

Rules governing tree removal are a bit more fuzzy and open to individual interpretation, though.

“It’s really a gray area,” said Paul Richard, chairman of the Old King’s Highway Historic District Committee.

The trees already removed were on private property and Eversource received permission from homeowners to do the work, according to Durand, who said most of the trees were suffering from insect infestation or drought-related disease.

Durand referenced the string of major storms that struck the area earlier this year, plunging much of the region into darkness, as a reminder of why it’s important to remove trees that could cause utility reliability and safety issues.

“We (Eversource) have an obligation to mitigate damage, he said.

Richard believes Eversource did not violate any rules by not requesting approval from the committee, even though many village residents think otherwise.

Trees and landscaping would come under the committee’s purview if it were part of a larger application such as building a house, but weighing-in on private tree removal would be overstepping its bounds, according to Richard.

“It is my understanding that the Old King’s Highway committee does not have jurisdiction over trees on private property,” said Daniel Santos, director of public works for the town of Barnstable.

In the next phase of the project, Eversource plans to remove an additional 76 trees from the right-of-way layout of the roadway, and for that to happen it will need approval from the Old King’s Highway committee.

The utility already has filed an application with the committee, and a hearing could be held as early as next month.

Santos said the town’s tree warden — a position that is currently vacant — would inspect every one of the trees slated to be removed, looking for disease and/or structural problems before any work begins.

“If we are authorized to move forward, the removal process will begin in the fall, after the summer season,” Durand said.

On the application form, it is clearly stated that a minimum of two or three street trees must be planted for every tree removed.

But the question that remains unanswered in the minds of many villagers is: What is the replacement plan for the trees removed from private property?

It appears there is none.

“These are old trees,” said Joseph Berlandi, president of the Barnstable Village Association. “They frame the beauty of Route 6A. But the real issue is they are not replacing anything.”

To alleviate the tension between residents and Eversource that has percolated this spring, Canedy may resurrect a dormant tree committee that was formed to improve the often hostile relationships between the town, village, state and utility companies.

The Route 6A Tree Committee was active from 2009 to 2015 and would have been the conduit through which an agreement would have been brokered for a replacement strategy, according to Canedy.

“We have to get back to the way we were doing things,” she said. “If we need to get the committee formed again, we will.”

Barnstable Town Councilor John Flores, who represents Barnstable Village, shares Canedy’s sentiment.

“There should have been a plan in place so I, as a town councilor, and the (Old King’s Highway) committee and the DPW could have had a discussion with the tree removal company to make sure it was being done correctly,” he said.

“But the way some of the trees and stumps have been left, it really does look ugly,” added Flores.

— Follow Geoff Spillane on Twitter: @GSpillaneCCT.