BELFAST, Maine — Two trees that have been standing in the way of a plan to transport giant wind blade components from the ocean terminal at Mack Point to western Maine are going to come down.
After lengthy debate over their fate at Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting, councilors voted unanimously to let engineers remove the trees, which are now rooted on a city-owned right of way at the corner of Field and High streets. The engineers told councilors that one in particular — a roughly 25-foot-tall tree that appears to be an American basswood — poses a significant hazard to the plan.
“The trucks will find it an obstacle,” said Glenn Correll, a project engineer at Sewall Co. in Old Town. “It’s not that we have anything against trees, or against Belfast. It’s just that we want the process to move smoothly.” Engineers described Belfast as the most challenging segment on the 100-mile journey the blade components will take between Searsport and the New Hampshire border.
The councilors had talked about the matter at their last meeting two weeks ago, after which they asked the engineers to return with more information. Additionally, two years ago, the council voted after much discussion to cut the same trees down to allow other wind turbine parts to move through the city. Some of the same councilors Tuesday night said they had had enough talk.
“I love trees. I’ve planted a lot of them. I’m ready for this tree to go,” Councilor Michael Hurley said.
Correll and a project manager from Reed & Reed General Contractors in Woolwich attended Tuesday night’s meeting to persuade councilors that it was in the best interest of everyone to chop down the two trees and some saplings.
But not all councilors were convinced.
“It’s not optimal for the tree,” Councilor Eric Sanders said.
Abutting landowner Justin Sanderson also would prefer that the tree remain. He said Wednesday in an email to the Bangor Daily News that the tree acts as a buffer between the apartment house he owns and the busy street.
“The beauty of the tree benefits everyone who lives in the area,” he wrote. “The tree is simply very grand and it makes the entire area more attractive and aesthetically pleasing. By removing the tree, the area becomes less residential and more industrial. I am not sure that is a good thing for the residents.”
The wind blade components for an Independence Energy wind farm in Roxbury will begin to come through Belfast on Route 1 in late August. Engineers said the 200-foot-long truckloads will be too tall to fit under the High Street bridge.
As has happened in the past without incident, engineers propose to close Route 1 temporarily so that the loads can cross over the median, go up the down ramp and then cross High Street before returning to the coastal thoroughfare by the wrong ramp.
It’s a complicated plan, engineers said, but has worked well before as components traveled through Belfast in the summers of 2009 and 2010. At that time, the trucks were able to maneuver through two tight turns without needing to remove those particular trees.
But this time, the cargo is so long and the turns so tight that the designers fear the trees will be dangerous obstacles to the trucks’ path.
By leaving the trees, “you risk killing somebody, and who’s liable for that?” Correll asked councilors Tuesday night.
That seemed to be the argument that persuaded the councilors.
“I don’t want anybody to die from a tree,” Sanders said, right before the unanimous vote to remove two trees.
Correll and Brian Holmes, the Reed & Reed project manager, said after the meeting that the councilors’ decision was a relief and that Reed & Reed will be responsible for the trees’ removal.
City Manager Joe Slocum said Wednesday that the city has offered to let Sanderson help choose what to plant after the tree at the corner of High and Field streets is removed. He said that Belfast recognizes that Sanderson and his tenants benefit from the shade and beauty that the tree provides.
“We clearly understand that Belfast is a town that’s crazy for trees. Probably the hardest thing for me to do in the city of Belfast is cutting a tree,” he said.