SHIRLEY -- With its execution set for last Thursday, the Center Cemetery white pine saga continued. Enter the Shirley Center Historic District Commission, which met last week in response to a plea for help from the White Pine Working Group.
The single item on the agenda was to decide whether or not to send a letter to the Board of Selectmen, asking for a stay.
The WPWG is a grass roots citizens group about two-dozen strong and with an active core of about half that number. It sprang up virtually overnight after the selectmen at a public hearing this fall voted to fell the venerable tree, which is over 100 feet tall and said to be about 175 to 200 years old.
After receiving letters and calls protesting their decision, the selectmen agreed to hold off while a professional arborist took a look at the tree.
Last week, the selectmen reinstated their original vote, citing damage the towering pine and its far-reaching roots have done to slate tombstones in the Whitney gravesite, which dates to the 1700s, and the risk of more damage if they don't act now.
WPWG leader Janet Tice and former selectman Chip Guercio argued eloquently for their cause, but to no avail. When Chairman Andy Deveau said the tree should come down, whether it's healthy or not, selectmen David Swain and Kendra Dumont agreed. The stones, they said, are more historically valuable than the old pine tree.
The WPWG didn't give up, though. Tice sent emails to just about every board in town, hoping to garner official support for their position, that the tree's scheduled date of demise should be postponed, at least until a densitometer test is done to determine the interior strength of the twin trunk, indicating whether it can withstand cabling.
So far, only the HDC has backed them up.
After an hour's discussion, the four-member commission voted unanimously for Chairman Don Reed's motion to send a letter to the selectmen, in favor of WPWG's request.
The missive won't be an email, but an actual letter that one of the members, Paul Przybyla, agreed to draft and share with other members via email. It will be delivered to Town Hall by midday Wednesday, the commissioners agreed, with copies to the town clerk, Cemetery Commission and DPW Foreman Paul Farrar.
The commissioners also agreed the letter must be succinct.
While recognizing the selectmen's sincerity in the stand they have taken and their authority to act as they see fit in the matter, they also noted that the board has worked with the WPWG, whose civic-minded preservation activities should be applauded and encouraged, they said, whether the tree can be saved or not.
In that spirit, the HDC decided to recommend that the selectmen rethink their decision and give the WPWG what they are asking for: more time.