Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Brewster "Christmas Tree" to be chopped down

[The pressures of tourism, traffic issues and road safety in an area of historic heritage have combined to force a radical solution on the town of Brewster. It’s a situation with which Budleigh residents will sympathise].

Brewster will have to find a new tree to hang its Christmas lights on this year.

The tall spruce at the intersection of Stony Brook and Setucket roads is likely to be chopped down as part of an extensive remodeling of the Stony Brook mill site.

Brewster’s Town Councillors, known as Selectmen, spared the 70-foot, 60-year-old white spruce from the axe last year, when the topic came up, but extensive studies by Russell Kleekamp of Stearns and Wheeler environmental engineers of Hyannis determined there was no viable alternative.

At a recent public hearing selectmen approved, by a 5-0 vote, a plan that would replace the tree, add parking and straighten the intersection.

“The tree is showing signs of age, is in poor condition and digging deep around the roots could impact the tree,” Kleekamp said. “It would be time to look at the option of relocating the tree.”

But relocation means replacement. Moving such a large tree would be expensive and root damage would give it only a 50/50 chance of survival. Department of public works director Bob Bersin suggested that a new, smaller, healthy, indigenous tree replace it. None of the ideal Christmas trees (spruce, hemlock, fir) are really native to Cape Cod’s sandy soil so it’s hard to say what that might be.

The “relocation” of a new tree will be to the north side of Stony Brook Road. Adjacent to that, up to 25 parking spaces (number undetermined) will be installed. The traffic island will be gone and the intersection will be a t-bone intersection. The town has money for storm water runoff improvements ($346,000 from the state), to protect the brook and marsh, and that provides an opportunity for safety improvements. Brewster will contribute $578,000.

Leaving the traffic island in the straightened intersection would not provide a good turning radius for larger vehicles, such as fire trucks. Cars coming down Stony Brook Road would also slow down as they approach Setucket Road. The crosswalk, or pedestrian crossing, would also be moved 50 feet to add reaction time for drivers.

“What we’re trying to do is maintain the character of the roads but improve the safety aspect,” said Police Chief Richard Koch. “I don’t want to wait until somebody is killed there before we make some changes.”

“You can’t go by there without hearing brakes lock up, tyres screaming, we’ve been very fortunate down there,” said Dana Condit, chairman of the Stony Brook Mill Sites Committee. “This is one of those tiny little sites that just gets loved to death.”

While almost everyone supported the safety improvements, some were still concerned about traffic and crowds.

“My main point is we’re gentrifying a very historic, quaint, small road with a small shop, herring run, a mill, by the addition of parking spaces,” objected resident Elbert Ulshoeffer. “This becomes another tourist attraction instead of a historic site.”

He’s also worried about more cars backing out into traffic. But others noted that tourists already come, arriving by the busload during herring season.

“There is a need for a signage program,” town planner Sue Leven pointed out. “It was a big surprise to me to come down the hill into a busload of teenagers waiting to cross.”

She’d like to see some warning signs, perhaps with parking directions.

The old tree, which has been decorated for the holidays since the 1950s, will be missed despite not being a “native” son.

“Moving the tree would cost a lot of money and it’s not worth it,” Selectman Ed Lewis said of the spruce. “But it is sad to see it go. Those kinds of things bother me.”

“We all realize the tree has a lot of sentimental value to the town,” agreed Selectman Greg Levasseur. “But improvements can make it better. There will be a nice park around it so people can enjoy the [new] tree if they want to.”

Text credit: Rich Eldred, reprinted with permission from The Cape Codder newspaper, Orleans, Massachusetts USA;

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