For the Record
Yule Lights and City Shade Trees
By Edward Shanahan
As a former member of the Northampton Tree Committee (my term expired Oct. 31), I’m surprised by the misinformation circulating about the mean old Tree Committee spoiling everyone’s Christmas cheer.
The decision by the Chamber of Commerce not to string decorative lights on downtown city trees this upcoming season was the chamber’s alone as Suzanne Beck, its director, well knows despite her misleading statements blaming the Tree Committee for the apparent abrupt end of the traditional decorations.
I was present at the September Tree Committee meeting when Mayor Higgins told our committee she had just come from a Chamber meeting where it was decided it was too expensive and too much of hassle to continue to use trees for their decorations. An alternative approach would be to use utilities poles to support any holiday decorating.
It was only after learning of the Chamber’s change of plans that the three-year-old Tree Committee decided to open up a discussion of the whole issue of what is best for the trees and what the committee’s statutory role is under state Chapter 87 as the protector of public shade trees in the community.
The committee had met jointly many months ago with Beck of the Chamber as well as with representatives of the Florence Civic and Business Association to address the long-standing issue of what could be done about the Christmas lights that have remained on city trees year after year, until in some cases they bound the trees so tightly they were nearly impossible to remove without cutting them free.
Beck said it was becoming prohibitively expensive for the Chamber to pay a firm to handle the annual Christmas lighting project. She suggested her organization was less and less enamored with the holiday ritual, especially recognizing that the lights should be taken down each year, even though that was not always done, especially with the very tall trees.
The hard-working volunteers in Florence who can not afford to hire a company to do the decorating, round up business people and other community-spirited individuals to perform the work. Their intention is to take the lights down in the late spring or summer but sometimes they don’t manage to do that because of the labor involved.
There was even some testimony that Department of Public Works workers visited various businesses in Florence to remind them long after the holidays are over of the need to remove the lights, which caused bruised feelings in the village.
The discussion was cordial and we thought productive. The committee did not feel any need to develop any specific guidelines vis-à-vis decorative lights and trees.
But, despite our discussions and some reassurances, the lights did not come down this spring or summer.
In other words, it is much easier to string the lights once and let them remain until the next season when they can be illuminated once again.
So the Tree Committee recently drafted a proposal for future regulations governing the use or abuse of our public shade trees, not just covering lighting, but posters and signs, nails and other fixtures. This proposal would then be sent along to the Board of Public Works for its consideration. At its most recent meeting, Tree Committee members had a somewhat fractious discussion about modifying the proposal, which will be considered further by the Tree Committee at its Nov. 28 meeting.
Meanwhile, along Northampton’s Main Street you will find at least three and soon to be four dead trees either still standing or a bare sidewalk space from which they have been removed. The overall condition of the trees downtown range from poor to terrible, caused by many factors – lack of watering, urban wear and tear, possibly the effect of girdling strings of decorative lights, disease, and even the brutal hacking of dozens of tree limbs when Jordi Herold and utility crews were allowed to move a house along Pleasant Street in the dead of night to its final resting place on Dewey Court where it was renovated and sold for a huge profit. What about the mutilated trees?
At least three trees in downtown Florence have died in the last year or so; one was replaced in front of the Florence Savings Bank, the one next to it, choked by strings of lights, was blessedly removed a few months ago, with only barren soil showing where it had once tried to flourish.
It’s okay for someone in this community stand up for the trees from time to time, even if they are responsible for ruining everyone’s happy holidays. There are enough people who apparently don’t give a damn about our city’s trees.
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