Cahill tenant takes on tree safety — and gets the attention of Smith College

  • Workers with Howes Tree & Landscaping of Cummington remove unsafe trees and tree limbs at Cahill Apartments on behalf of Smith College, Nov. 19. STAFF PHOTO/BERA DUNAU

Staff Writer
Published: 12/17/2018 10:19:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — For months, tenant Shelly Neumann has complained about falling tree limbs in the parking lot and near the dumpster at Cahill Apartments, fearing for her safety and the safety of others.

“I have called housing about this issue … at least eight times,” Neumann said. “Nobody came out.”

After she complained directly to Smith College, which owns some of the property containing the troublesome trees, the college cut down and trimmed its trees. The Northampton Housing Authority then followed suit.

“I did this — not housing,” Neumann said.

Neumann said she tried contacting Smith College four or five months ago but that nothing came of it. However, on Nov. 14, she tried again, and Bob Dombkowski, grounds supervisor at the college, was notified via the college’s public relations office.

“I said, ‘I’m coming right down,’” Dombkowski recalled.

Once Dombkowski saw the trees, he acted swiftly, getting in touch with the owner of Howes Tree & Landscaping Cummington.

“I called Chad Howes right there from the site immediately,” Dombkowski said.

Dombkowski said he saw trees with dead limbs that needed attention, as well as fallen limbs on the ground.

That was back in November. Because of the snowstorm predicted to hit the next day, Howes was not able to come out until the following Monday.

“There were two trees there that were really bad,” said Dombkowski.

He said Howes took the top off one of the trees and pruned the dead branches off the second one. Dombkowski also said that there were trees on the housing authority’s property that needed to be dealt with, and that he would contact them, a statement he made prior to the authority ordering its own tree work.

Dombkowski added that the housing authority had not contacted him about the trees, and that it was Neumann, the tenant, who first reached him. As for why she wasn’t able to reach him the first time, he said that people call Smith all the time and that the message simply didn’t get through.

Before Howes arrived, Neumann also posted handwritten notices throughout Cahill Apartments informing tenants of the impending tree work, and she noted that housing did not put up notices of its own, despite her asking housing to do so.

“They never did it,” she said.

The housing authority subsequently hired Titan Tree Inc., which did tree work at Cahill on Dec. 7.

In the parking lot, “The danger is gone,” said Neumann.

She also said that tenants now feel safer, relating how one tenant had been afraid to sit on her back porch and steps.

Nevertheless, she said the tree overlooking the clotheslines near buildings D and E in the complex still needs to be trimmed and is of concern, as are several other trees on the property.

Asked about the tree issue, Northampton Housing Authority Executive Director Cara Clifford said she believed the issue had been solved with Smith’s trees when she instructed that a call be put into Smith to deal with it earlier in the year.

“I thought that Smith had actually taken care of it,” she said.

Clifford said that she’d had a secretary call Smith’s number the first time Neumann had raised the issue.

Clifford also produced a schedule of invoices to Titan Tree Inc., which the housing authority has used in the past for tree work.

“Every year since I’ve gotten here, we’ve done something with the trees,” said Clifford.

In August, Titan removed a mountain ash at Cahill. Clifford also said that public housing looks for “widow maker” tree limbs on a daily basis.

Additionally, Clifford said she has signed off on additional tree work at Cahill.

And what does she make of Neumann reaching out to Smith? “I am fine with that,” Clifford said. “Shelly has been very helpful for us.”

Neumann said several vehicles were hit by falling limbs before the tree issue was dealt with, and she had “felt totally unsafe,” although she knew of no one who had been injured by the limbs.

One person who said that her vehicle was damaged by the trees was tenant Hildegarde Freedman.

On the day that Howes started its tree work, Freedman showed a dent in the hood of her Saab.

“My car has damage,” she said.

When asked about vehicles being damaged, Clifford said that anyone with a legitimate claim can file one with the housing authority.

Freedman said there should have been better communication between the housing authority and Smith.

“That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen,” she said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at

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