TREMONT — Contractors for the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) are at work on the Clark Bridge here, and some residents are concerned that a 100-year-old Siberian elm tree is being damaged in the process.
About a half-dozen concerned citizens attended a construction progress meeting on Friday to voice concerns about treatment of the tree.
MDOT officials voluntarily delayed the meeting meant for town officials only in order to speak with residents about the perceived lack of care for the roots and health of the tree.
“I’m deeply concerned,” said Keith Higgins, Tremont’s fire chief. “They’re parking and storing equipment right at the base of the tree.”
“These guys have spill kits right there to address any spills,” said Tim Hebert of MDOT. “We have an arborist who is going to come up and look at it.”
“An arborist should have been there on the twenty-sixth (of December) when they started the project,” said Higgins.
The contract for the project specifies that crews are to “minimize excavation and disturbance in proximity to the tree.”
Selectman Mike Mansolilli, who owns a property management company in town, expressed his concern that the damage has already been done. Mansolilli said he has seen roots of the tree that are broken and stripped at the construction site.
“It’s opening it to disease and rot,” he said. “That tree is slowly going to die over the next five to 10 years.”
Hebert spoke to the board of selectmen in December to give an overview of the project to replace the Clark Bridge, located next to Tremont Consolidated School on Route 102. At that meeting, several selectmen and members of the public asked Hebert to make sure the tree was protected in the construction process during that meeting. He assured them the contractor would be made aware of the community’s concern for the tree.
“I just feel like if you say you’re going to do something, you should,” said Mansolilli.
“As far as the contract says, we have,” said Hebert. “The tree is important to me and the DOT as well.”
Members of the construction crew explained the multiple challenges within the worksite. One said they had likely damaged the tree, but he didn’t see any way not to considering the small space and large equipment needed to perform the job.
At the request of residents at the meeting, Hebert arranged for a local arborist to inspect the tree and offer recommendations. The arborist has conducted the inspection, Hebert said Tuesday, but has not yet discussed his findings with MDOT.
“We’re trying our best to keep the tree there for many, many years,” Hebert told the group.