SHIRLEY -- The fate of a giant white pine tree that has stood for more than a century in the Center Cemetery was decided and the controversy was set to end last week with its removal. Now it looks like the saga will have at least one more chapter.
The tree was slated to be taken down today, despite efforts by the White Pine Working Group to save it. The reprieve could be brief.
Flagg Tree Service had scheduled removal for this morning but it was canceled due to an equipment problem, Chief Administrative Officer David Berry said Wednesday afternoon. The rental crane for the job broke down, he said. Repairs should take about a week, after which the work can be rescheduled.
The question now becomes whether selectmen will go ahead as planned or hold off, as requested by the WPWG and the Shirley Center Historic District Commission.
When the board voted at a public hearing a few weeks ago to have the tree taken down, Selectmen Chairman Andy Deveau cited continuing damage to slate headstones dating to the 1700s. The historic value of the stones outweighs that of the tree, selectmen agreed.
After residents objected, selectmen temporarily tabled their decision, but reinstated it last week. Between the two votes, an arborist evaluated the tree and recommended remedial work and damage-control measures, including trimming top branches, cabling the forked trunk together and perhaps installing a lightning rod.
First, though, he said a test of the trunk's density should be done. WPWG has raised $600 to pay for the test but it will take longer to drum up $5,000 for the hardware and work.
The group asked selectmen to hold off until spring.
The cost of removing the tree now is $3,900, which the Cemetery Commission agreed to pay. The commission previously voted to have the tree removed. The removal money would not come from the public but is funded by perpetual-care fees and burial-lot sales.
The WPWG's bid for more time is now backed by the HDC, one of several town boards they appealed to for help.
Tuesday night, at a meeting called to address the issue, commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to selectmen the next day, appealing to them to stop the scheduled removal of the tree.
While acknowledging selectmen's concerns, the HDC also cited "the contribution the white pine makes to the historic landscape of the cemetery and adjacent common."
"Shirley's historic assets will only be saved for future generations if its citizens take an active interest in their protection," HDC's letter reads.
"In our role as commissioners, we will look forward to learning the results of this (density) study so that an agreement can be reached that both protects the gravestones and the historic landscape in which they reside," the letter concludes.
Deveau said the letter was received by the selectmen's office early Wednesday afternoon but there was no confirmation yet on whether any of them have read it.
Deveau said while he is "both thankful and respectful of the dedication and work that the Shirley Historical Commission does to preserve our heritage and historical assets," he hasn't changed his mind about felling the pine tree.
"I remain of the opinion that it is in the best interest towards preserving some of our oldest historical artifacts for future generations ... that the old pine tree in question must be removed," he said in an email Wednesday night.
Recently, Deveau said, the board took "legal measures to protect the large beech tree in front of the old Hazen Memorial Library," and also played a role in rewriting the town's subdivision regulations to require developers to plant street trees with specific minimum standards.
"As much as we don't like to see the removal of trees, it is in the best interest of preservation that this particular tree must now be removed," Deveau concluded.
As of this writing, tree removal was set for Dec. 27.