Northampton men launch effort to plant shade trees in public ways
Robert Postel stands beside a sugar maple tree on the tree belt outside his home at 44 Washington Avenue in Northampton Friday. Tracy Green, stands in front of her home where a tree of a similar age was taken down by the city recently.
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Robert Postel stands near a sugar maple tree on the tree belt in front of his house at 44 Washington Avenue in Northampton Friday. Trees of a similar age that line the street are being taken down by the city.
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NORTHAMPTON — Alarmed at the rate that city streets are losing shade trees to disease and other causes, two city men are launching an effort to replant trees in public ways next to homes.
Rob Postel and Andrew Putnam are volunteering their time to plant the trees for homeowners in hopes of making a “small but significant” contribution towards replacing the city’s tree stock. Postel estimates the city loses about 70 shade trees a year, though he stresses that is not an official tally.
“Andrew and I are offering to make this gift in hopes of mitigating a very serious problem,” said Postel, a Washington Avenue resident. “The shade trees that line Northampton streets are being removed at a much faster rate than they are being replaced.”
To combat the problem, Postel, Putnam, of South Street, and other volunteers are offering to plant as many as 20 trees a year in public ways.
“We think that will make a difference, and we ultimately hope the action will inspire others to help,” Postel said.
The locations for the tree plantings will be determined by homeowners who request and pay for a tree to be planted in the public way next to or in front of their property. Postel said they hope to be able to offer trees at reduced rates. A tree could cost between $100 and $200, depending on the type and size of tree. Postel anticipates being able to negotiate a lower price by ordering more than a few trees at a time.
He said a few homeowners have expressed interest in getting a tree near their property this spring.
“By the timetheground thaws we hope to be able to plant a small batch of trees and thenexpand the number of trees we plant in the next batch,” Postel said.
Postel and Putnam would provide technical assistance and labor to properly plant the trees, including acquiring approval from the Tree Committee, securing “Dig Safe” permits from utility companies and a trench permit from the Department of Public Works.
The Board of Public Works approved the plan and waived the insurance required to work in a public way at a meeting last fall, based on a positive recommendtion from the Tree Committee. The City Council last week agreed to accept the trees as gifts.
Ward 2 City Councilor Paul D. Spector voiced support for the idea in an email to fellow councilors and others.
“My ward, indeed, my street has lost lots of shade trees and we need all the help we can get to replant,” he wrote.
Councilors noted that volunteers will assume liability should someone get hurt and likely will have to sign a release form in order to work in a public way.
Several councilors were pleased that community members are stepping up to solve problems. They acknowledged the loss of tree canopy in the city at numerous streets where infestation and blight have decimiated many single-species trees. Elm Street, for example, used to be lined by elm trees, said City Council President William H. Dwight. He said the group is aware of these issues as they move ahead with their plans to restore shady treescapes to the streets.
“I see no downside other than raking,” Dwight said.
The trees will be approved by the Tree Committee from its approved tree species list prior to planting, and homeowners will agree to water the trees after they are planted.
Postel hopes their effort will make it easier for homeowners who want a tree planted next to their property to get one. His group intends to batch more than one application together at ta time.
“In order to get permission to plant a tree in a public way, it takes time, money and effort; you really can’t just get a tree and put it in the ground,” Postel said.
Now, it’s not as simple as getting a tree and planting it in the ground.
Putnam will lead the tree plantings. He has a bachelor’s of scoince in arboriculture and urban forestry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and several professional certifications and awards.