Cutters fell large Orono cottonwood tree to make way for credit union

Posted Sept. 17, 2013, at 2:28 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 17, 2013, at 8:47 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Workers on Tuesday cut down a large cottonwood tree that has hovered over Main Street for multiple generations.

The roughly 70-year-old tree was among several trees razed to make room for a University Credit Union branch that will be constructed at the corner of Bennoch Road and Main Street.

Crews from Maine Tree Landscaping began cutting down the trees shortly before 9 a.m., and work continued throughout the day. The large tree came crashing to earth around 3 p.m. after several of its large branches were removed.

Galen Estes, who is supervising the Credit Union project for Sheridan Construction, said Tuesday’s work was geared toward getting ready to build a retaining wall.

“Once the retaining wall’s started, then we’ll fill the site up to a rough grade so we can start construction on the actual foundation of the building,” Estes said.

The removal of the big cottonwood tree is part of redevelopment of the site of the old Katahdin Building, which has been vacant since a 2009 fire.

A Facebook page geared toward saving the tree had generated 215 likes as of Tuesday afternoon.

The UCU headquarters building will consist of a 16,000-square-foot structure that will hold two wings and include drive-through lanes, parking and an urban plaza.

The tree-cutting attracted multiple onlookers traveling up and down Main Street during the morning commute, including longtime Orono resident Marlene Doucette.

Doucette, who snapped pictures as crews worked slowly to remove the cottonwood tree, had no complaints about the project.

“If they have to take it down, they take it down,” she said. “It’s their job. People protest and complain about it and they take it down anyway.”

One resident who wasn’t too happy was Stanley Levitsky, who was out for a bike ride.

“It’s not a good thing,” he said. “It’s a direction that the town needs to think about.”

Levitsky has lived in Orono since the late 1980s and noted that the tree has been a town landmark. Estes said the tree is somewhere between 50 and 60 years old.

“You can’t put an old tree back,” said Levitsky. “For 10 parking spaces [and a bank] you’re removing a piece of history.”

Estes said crews planned to either chip or biomass the chopped-down trees.

“They’ll just get it off-site,” he said.

The tree, an eastern cottonwood, is common throughout the East and Midwest, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. It’s a fast-growing tree that reaches 80-100 feet in height and 3-4 feet in diameter. It’s a relatively short-lived tree, seldom surviving for more than 80 years.

Orono’s tree board approved cutting down the tree after determining it was not an endangered or unique species and that it was not in good health, according to town manager Sophie Wilson. A core sample taken from the cottonwood’s trunk showed rot about 6½ inches from its surface. Wilson said on Monday that tree board members also noted dead limbs and areas with few leaves.

BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.