By Katina Caraganis
SHIRLEY -- Selectmen did not overturn their decision to have a pine tree growing in one of the town's cemeteries removed despite concerns raised by a group of citizens.
The twin-trunk white pine, estimated to be 175 to 200 years old, had been a historic landmark in Shirley Center Cemetery, but concerns were raised because roots had grown so large they were displacing some of the cemetery's oldest headstones.
The Whitney plot, which marks the grave of Phinneas Whitney, the first minister of the Shirley Meeting House, had been next to the tree and had been damaged over the last few years.
Arborist Carl Cathcart inspected the health of the tree and determined its density would need to be looked at more closely to determine if it would even withstand any restoration efforts.
The tree's removal was delayed twice because of equipment and weather issues, but it was taken down on Wednesday.
It was estimated it would cost $3,900 to remove the tree, which would come out of the Cemetery Committee's budget, while the estimated cost to restore the tree, which would be done through donations and private funds, was $5,000.
The selectmen voted to cut down the tree. The first vote, taken in the fall, was put on hold after a group called the Pine Tree Working Group asked that the matter be investigated further.
The selectmen's second vote came in December.
Selectman Dave Swain said the board didn't feel it was necessary to go back on the vote.
"The tree isn't even historical like they think. Photographs from the early 1900s either don't show the tree or show it as very small," he said. "The tree's destroyed a gravestone already. Most cemeteries today are removing trees, not having them in the vicinity of graves."
Swain said he believes it was more important to save the historical slate gravestones in the cemetery.
"If we don't do something, there's the potential that something could break off and destroy them," Swain said earlier. "They're in fantastic shape, and they should be protected. The group has done their work, but it really doesn't solve the problem. We'd rather protect the assets of the town, which are the gravestones."
Chip Guercio, a member of the citizens group, said the working group had received support from the Planning Board, Conservation Commission and Historical Commission to save the tree .
Guercio said the group had solicited enough private donations to pay for the density testing.
"If it's deemed healthy, we'd like to trim it and add decades to its life. We'd like to come up with a master plan for the preservation of the graves in the cemetery, which are hundreds of years old," he said prior to Wednesday.
There should be more of a plan in place to deal with issues like this as opposed to just a vote by the selectmen being the end all, he said.