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Tree Debate Rages On

Posted on 26 September 2008

Despite an arborist’s statement that a historic black oak on Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor is a hazard and should be considered for removal, some Sag Harbor residents maintain that not enough research has been done to consider the tree a lost cause.

Last week, Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris confirmed the village was looking at removing the tree that juts into the roadway after two car accidents in six months involving the oak led to the conclusion the tree was a safety issue and insurance liability. Compounding village concerns was a letter received last week from Southampton arborist Ray Smith of Ray Smith and Associates.

 “It is my opinion this tree is hazardous and should be considered for removal,” wrote Smith in the letter dated September 17. “There are significant areas of visible decay for an approximately seven to eight 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.

But according to Sag Harbor Tree Fund member Mac Griswold coring samples need to be done to show whether it truly is a hazard. 

“It is not at all clear yet,” said Griswold. “Having done some research with [Delaware tree expert] Russ Carlson, who was suggested to me by the New York Botanical Garden, a tree such as this is not necessarily a hazard unless coring samples have been done; and they have not been done.”

Sag Harbor resident and Ph.D botanist Stuart Lowrie with The Nature Conservancy agreed that core samples are needed before a tree can be declared a hazard.

Griswold said the tree fund, which is funded by a line item in the village budget, would look for a second opinion and someone to perform the coring.

“I have to say it is kind of ironic that Mac Griswold of the tree fund referred us to Ray Smith and now that she did not like his answer, is asking for a second opinion,” said Ferraris.

The issue of traffic calming on Jermain Avenue also arose amongst those voicing concern over the tree’s removal this week, with some questioning whether that is the prevailing issue regarding accidents on Jermain Avenue.

Last year, the village was steps away from applying for funding through Safe Routes To Schools that would have enabled traffic calming improvements throughout the Sag Harbor School District, including on Jermain Avenue. The village pulled back after losing the Town of Southampton as a sponsoring agent and learned of the upfront costs involved.

“A lot of work was done on that last year and we do have recommendations from a professional consultant,” said Ferraris. “The village would certainly be interested in moving forward with Safe Routes to School, however, the village does not have half-a-million dollars to put up as collateral for a project not ultimately guaranteed funding, especially when many of these improvements were going to be made outside the village.”

Sag Harbor’s Ken Dorph, who spearheaded the Safe Routes to School effort, lamented this week that Sag Harbor was considered far ahead of the competition vying for funding through the program. He maintains if the town, village or school district had moved forward with the application, funding would be available for improvements on Jermain.

Griswold believes that based on a discussion she had with a landscape architect, a bump out is possible to save the oak and ensure safety on Jermain Avenue.

On Wednesday, Ferraris said while the village was waiting to hear back from its insurance company and the village attorney before making a decision on the oak, he would look at it specifically from a liability standpoint. 

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