NASHUA — As the downtown revitalization project continues, there are still about 55 mature trees that will be cut down and replaced with smaller trees or planter beds, according to the mayor.
"Some people are hearing the trees are coming down, but they are not hearing the trees are being replaced," Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said last week during a Board of Public Works meeting.
To date, about 35 large trees have already been removed since the start of the downtown project, which entails replacing all of the sidewalks along five blocks of Main Street.
The trees removed from the first two blocks along Main Street were mostly locust and pear. Once work begins on blocks three through five, Lozeau said, an additional 35 locust trees, 10 red maple, nine linden and one pear will still need to be cut down because of trunk damage, internal decay, overgrown roots and dead tops.
She stressed, however, that the mature trees will be replaced with smaller trees such as crab apple, red maple, ginkgo, hornbeam and Japanese Zelkova.
"This is the first that we are going to be introducing color to downtown," she said, noting the replacement trees were selected based on their tolerance to salt, drought, pollution and aesthetic appeal.
Within the first two blocks where mature trees were previously cut down, smaller trees and granite planter beds — some of which are flush with the ground and others that are raised — have been added.
Most importantly, all of the replacement trees are being planted with root barriers so the new sidewalks will not be damaged once the trees are fully grown in about 10 years, she said.
The cutting of the downtown trees has created significant criticism this year, prompting a petition by Alderman Dan Moriarty to save the remaining mature trees. In addition, local landscape designer and state arborist Eliza Weeks urged the Board of Aldermen earlier this year to reconsider cutting all the trees on Main Street and instead figure out how best to protect the trees during sidewalk renovations.
"I believe removing all the trees will compromise the look and feel of downtown Nashua, making downtown a less inviting place to visit for the next 10 years," Weeks previously wrote in a letter to city officials.
Lozeau said the remaining trees along Main Street are causing the sidewalk bricks to shift and loosen as the roots grow, creating a hazard for pedestrians. The original trees, according to city officials, were not planted property, and several of the tree roots have become entangled in utility conduits and pipes that if not properly addressed would require excavation of the new sidewalks in the future.
In an effort to educate the public about the controversial issue, the city has created a PowerPoint presentation that will be posted on the city's website explaining the extent of the tree problem, what is being done to correct the issue and how many trees will be planted to replace those being removed.
It is important to get the facts out there so that the public understands that the trees being cut down will be replaced with other trees and green space, said Lozeau.
Now that some of the tall trees have been removed, the facades of many downtown buildings are more visible, said Lozeau, adding the exterior of some buildings need improvements. About $40,000 has been set aside in the city's budget for a new downtown facade program that is designed to help some merchants enhance the facade of their Main Street buildings, Lozeau said.