An informational meeting and walkthrough on a planned tree removal on Rochester and Old Colony property turned heated Saturday morning as some neighbors voiced concern over the project.
Forester Phil Benjamin of Benjamin Forestry Services presented a Forest Management Plan, which he said had already been approved by the School Committee as well as the State Forester, and he led those present on a walk around the proposed areas, where trees have already been marked for removal.
“The focus of our business is the long-term management of the property,” said Benjamin, adding that part of the organizers’ plan is to promote age distribution among the trees in the forest. “We’re trying to manage the forest with a long-range horizon.”
Neighbor Ken Pastie, who said his property is close to where some of the trees will be cleared, voiced concern over issues ranging from long-term damage to the forest to noise from heavy machinery to fire hazards, as well as many other issues he has with the project.
“This is a money-making operation for the mill companies,” said Pastie, who added that the 150-foot buffer zone between his property and the project wasn’t enough to satisfy him.
“We’re agents for the landowner, not the saw mill,” said Benjamin, who explained that a total of 44 trees would be removed from the school property and 160 from town property, which would amount to about five truckloads.
The Forest Stewardship plan was funded by a 2010 state grant acquired by the town’s Conservation Commission in partnership with Old Colony, who approved the plan in 2011. Benjamin said that one of the primary goals of the project is to “reestablish the White Pine population” in the forest, which he said is suffering due to overcrowding.
Ben Bailey, who serves on the Planning Board and owns property nearby, supported the project, saying that that he has knowledge of forest management plans and that he’d read through this one.
“This is one of the most beautiful Forest Stewardship plans [that I’ve seen],” Bailey said. “This is not aimed strictly at harvesting for profit. We feel very confident in Mr. Benjamin.”
David Hughes, who serves on the Old Colony School Committee, said that this project isn’t something that should come between the school and abutters.
“The school and the abutters have had a great rapport,” he said. “I don’t think a project like this should change that.”
Some neighbors noted that the project was announced suddenly and that they were surprised to learn of it, although the project has been in the works for three years and discussed in detail at several meetings of the Conservation Commission, which are all televised. Rochester Conservation Agent Laurell Farinon said that she’d gone door to door to neighbors’ homes to provide information on the project.
By Nick Walecka