Historic Black Oak In Sag Harbor Scheduled For Removal

Posted on 19 September 2008

After a week of debate over the fate of a 100-year old Black Oak on Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor, village officials will remove the tree after receiving a report from a local arborist that deemed the tree a hazard.

For the second time in six months, on August 30 a driver hit a hundred-year-old black oak tree on Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor in front of Oakland Cemetery flipping the vehicle over onto the other side of the road. For the second time in six months the driver of the vehicle had to be extricated by rescue personnel and was transported to the hospital with injuries as a result of the crash.

And now the Village of Sag Harbor will remove the tree, to the dismay of some community members who saw a dual opportunity to save the historic tree and implement traffic calming measures on Jermain Avenue.

On Wednesday, Ray Smith, President of Ray Smith and Associates, a Southampton-based arborist, informed Sag Harbor Village Superintendent of Public Works that after his inspection he viewed the Black Oak as a hazard.

“It is my opinion this tree is hazardous and should be considered for removal,” said Smith in a letter dated September 17. “There are significant areas of visible decay for an approximately 7-8 foot length in the main trunk which leads me to conclude there is possibly more decay in the trunk. There is also a visible stress fracture that runs vertically up the length of the tree for approximately five feet. The tree has retained enough conductive tissue to support a healthy, heavy canopy which further predisposes it to failure. When a full canopy in a large tree such as this Black Oak is combined with significant areas of decay in the main trunk it significantly increases the chance of structural failure in high winds and extreme weather.”

After about a week of rumors churning in Sag Harbor that village officials were looking to take down approximately half-a-dozen trees because they posed a liability, mayor Greg Ferraris said on Monday the village planned to remove only one tree – the oak on Jermain Avenue.

“Last week I was informed that the village received a ‘notice of defect’ regarding the tree,” he explained in a written statement on Wednesday. “This ‘notice of defect’ technically puts the village on notice that it needs to remediate the situation that caused the defect. In speaking with our insurance representative today, if another incident were to occur at this location due to this defect, and the individual made a claim, there is a probable chance that the village would be liable without any insurance coverage. This scenario could already be in play due to the circumstances surrounding these horrific accidents.”

In addition to the August accident, where an East Hampton woman was transported to Southampton Hospital, a February accident led to a Sag Harbor resident being airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital for medical attention. There have been three accidents at the tree, said Ferraris in the last two years.

On Wednesday, Ferraris stressed that even if the insurance company had not become involved, after witnessing the scene of both accidents he believed the tree presented a health and safety risk to residents.

“I do not want to even begin to compare the seriousness of these accidents and the potential harm to the health and safety of an individual with the historic nature of this tree,” he said.

But on Thursday, during a historic preservation and architectural review board meeting members of that board expressed grave concerns at the prospect of historic trees being removed by the village.

“There has to be alternatives,” said board member Robert Tortora.

Village attorney Anthony Tohill said he had yet to be informed about the situation, but would follow up on the matter. He did add he has seen traffic calming measures implemented in cases like these elsewhere, rather than the removal of a tree.

On Wednesday, after hearing news that the village would in fact remove the oak, Mac Griswold, a member of the Sag Harbor Tree Fund, released a statement about the situation.

“Jermain Avenue between Main and Madison is a dreaded speedway, a bypass for Routes 114 and 27,” writes Griswold. “Children are told not to use it to walk to school. Now a century-old black oak arching over this residential street has been the scene of two accidents. An order is out for a take-down.”

Griswold goes on to question what factors the village considers in a decision like this and suggests that a traditional traffic calming measure known as a bump-out, where a curb is wrapped around the tree, could be implemented in this case.

“Our old trees close to or in the road should have bump-outs,” she said. “If we protect this tree now, instead of taking it down, we’ll save a tree, set a standard and slow Jermain.”

But according to Ferraris, village officials have already looked at a bump out and determined that this particular spot on Jermain Avenue is too narrow for the measure, and if installed would not provide a safe route for traffic in the eastbound lane.

And now, with Smith’s assessment on file, the village will likely move forward with the tree’s removal in the next two weeks. 

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3 Responses to “Historic Black Oak In Sag Harbor Scheduled For Removal”

  1. Mayor Gregory N Ferraris says:

    (The following is a “letter to the editor” in response to Bryan Boyhan’s editorial regarding the Jermain Avenue tree)

    Dear Bryan,

    In reference to your editorial dated September 18th regarding the “100 year old oak” I offer the following: No one can argue the merits and benefits that the Sag Harbor Tree Fund has and will continue to provide to the Village of Sag Harbor. Their commitment over the last ten years has been a successful example of community development and resourcefulness that we can all learn from.

    The scenario with the “Jermain Avenue Oak” is an example of what we as Village Officials face on a consistent basis. As Mayor, I have a responsibility to all Village residents and taxpayers to assess each situation that arises and to address it with an educated solution that is based on reality and facts without the prejudice of perception and emotion. These decisions are based on factors such as risk management and fiscal responsibility which require me to assess and evaluate each situation to eliminate or limit the potential adverse impacts on the community in terms of physical, financial or human resources. Several of these decisions are complicated and many of them will not follow the popular view; however, they are made with the best interests of the Village and its taxpayers in mind.

    In this case, it was determined that this tree which has grown into the road by several feet has caused a significant safety concern which is clearly evidenced by the seriousness of the two accidents that have occurred over the past six months. This safety concern coupled with the potential of unlimited liability to the Village due to the issuance of a “notice of defect” which officially puts the Village on notice that a condition exists which puts the public at risk, along with the opinion from a certified arborist which states that the “tree is in a state of decay and causes a hazard to the street and adjacent sidewalk” led us to our informed decision to remove the tree. In my opinion, a planning or engineering study to recommend alternatives for removal of the tree would be fiscally irresponsible and would only delay the inevitable.

    I have instructed James R Early, Superintendent of Public Works, to meet with members of the Sag Harbor Tree Fund to determine the appropriate replacement for the black oak. In addition, we will salvage what we can of the “old oak” and offer the wood to the elderly and other members of the community who are in need who may use the wood to defray the cost of heating their homes this winter.

    Gregory N. Ferraris,
    Mayor

  2. Russell Jackson says:

    I am thankful for a mayor who approaches issues — even mundane ones such as this — with clear-eyed rationality and fiscal responsibility.

  3. Will the certified arborist who condemened the tree be the one who will be paid to cut it down?


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