Letter to the Mayor and the Alderpeople

To the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen of the City of Somerville,

I am writing to express my continued strong concern and opposition to the planned removal of the remaining trees on Beacon Street. We are scheduled, within days or weeks, to lose the last six shade trees on the street. This is unacceptable to me, and I am asking you to act immediately to prevent this loss.

Many of us who attended the “tree hearing” on April 23rd came away with a strong impression of a deeply flawed process. Despite framing that meeting as a “hearing,” there was clearly no chance that it would result in change. The city staff present did a professional and dignified job in a difficult situation. It was clear that they have no option available except to recommend that the project continue without changes. Not even unanimous opposition among the attendees and those who provided written testimony could result in any change whatsoever.

A community input process that cannot cause change is worse than none at all.

The “full-depth reconstruction” project on Beacon was planned, approved, and implemented in a flawed and secretive manner. The planning and construction has lacked transparency and strong governance for nearly three years now. This week’s rubber-stamp hearing for the last six trees on the street is an insulting afterthought to the unauthorized and unscheduled removal of 37 trees last October. It is a thin veneer of process for the final six out of nearly 100 trees sacrificed since work began in 2016.

This is a critical opportunity for the city to begin to rebuild trust with the residents. I am asking you to act in the interest of the residents and the city itself, despite the fact that it will cause delay and additional expense.

I am asking the city to save one tree:

  • Issue an immediate stop-work order to Newport Construction and MassDOT to prevent the immediate loss of any trees.
  • Issue a change order on the project that will result in the preservation of at least one tree.

I believe that it should be possible to create a “bump-out” on the curb next to any tree to be saved. Similar bump-outs are in place already on the northern part of Beacon Street where are used to prevent cars from parking too close to intersections. This small modification would leave the existing curb closest to the tree intact, which would save the root structure of that particular tree without requiring major changes to drainage or to the path of the road.

I understand that this will incur additional time and expense on a project that is already into its second year of delay. This is worthwhile because it will be an important, visible, lasting step in the right direction after years of secrecy and neglect.

It did not have to be this way.

We could have had this conversation in the six months since the issue came to our attention, or in the nearly three years since the plans were issued.

Even after you act, the other major issues associated with this project will remain. In particular, we will still have a flawed process for community input, and we will still need to pursue financial penalties against Newport Construction for their unauthorized actions last fall.

We need to defer those conversations because we are now, because of the city’s six months of delay in engagement, in a race against time. Even a day or two of delay may make the difference in the survival of the last of the shade trees on Beacon.

Mr Mayor and Honorable Aldermen, I am asking you to act today.

Save one tree.

Sincerely,
Chris Dwan
Ivaloo Street
chris@dwan.org

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