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City considers cutting down trees on green

By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Several trees on the Vergennes downtown green are throwing too much shade, according to officials at last week’s city council meeting, specifically on the park’s struggling grass.
“I want to grow grass in the park,” said City Manager Mel Hawley.
The issue is simply “a tremendous lack of sunlight” choking off grass, Hawley said, adding as a result, “five major trees need to come out of the park.”
In the case of two of the trees, behind the park’s central monument to Commodore Thomas Macdonough, the larger issue might be their age and the resulting safety issue.
“They’re nearing the end of their life,” Hawley said on Thursday morning.
As well as the two behind the monument, probably three more should come out from a group nearer to Main Street, where the grass is most severely challenged, Hawley said.
Not all the trees are in good shape, according to aldermen at their Tuesday meeting.
“My guess is some of the trees just are not healthy,” said Alderman Renny Perry. “Some of them may have to come down anyhow.”
The issue of the trees’ health is doubly relevant. Hawley is the city tree warden, and thus can order the removal of any diseased tree. But healthy trees can only be removed after a public process that includes hearings, Hawley said.
Perry recommended, and aldermen agreed, to ask the state forester to inspect the trees.
“He might come out and find all five trees are rotted in the middle,” said Alderman Mark Koenig.
But Hawley disagreed: “He’s not going to find that.”
However, Hawley said, the information from the forester would be critical in helping council members to prepare for a public hearing because it would allow them to let residents know exactly which healthy trees the council would be proposing to remove, and why.
“You need to be specific what your hearing is on,” Hawley said.
Council members agreed to revisit the issue when they hear back from the state forester.
In other business on May 9, the council:
•  Heard from Hawley that he is proposing an increase of about $9,000 in the city’s annual fire department budget to $165,117. The increase will largely fund repairs to the station’s exterior stairway and installation of a rail on the main ramp, he said.
The higher expense will be shared by the towns of Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham, but Hawley said he cannot pin down numbers until he knows what the department’s year-end fund balance will be and what Ferrisburgh’s final share of the cost will be. Vergennes is the first responder for more than a third of Ferrisburgh, and he and the town are still calculating numbers. The council will set the fire budget, and the rest of the city’s 2017-2018 spending plan, by the end of June.
•           Agreed to hire former Essex Junction village manager David Crawford to manage a 2016 $274,000 grant that will pay most of the estimated $300,000 cost of extending sidewalk about 900 feet along North Main Street toward Kayhart Crossing. Hawley said it is a complex project further complicated by federal red tape, and that the funding includes $27,000 to pay for management costs. That money will be used to hire Crawford to run a project that could begin in about a year. 

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