Family protests DOT plan to cut down tree

Residents of an Arkwright family homestead are up in arms about the Department of Transportation’s efforts to remove a cottonwood tree from their property.

This isn’t the first time the DOT has made an attempt to cut down the almost 100-year-old poplar.

Gina Vecchio, who resides on the family-owned property, said the department attempted to cut the tree down three years ago, causing severe stress to her ailing mother who passed away this year in June. As members of the family are still grieving, the possibility of losing the tree is only making things worse, she said. The property has been within the family since 1922.

According to Vecchio, the DOT claims the tree is a safety hazard to those traveling on Route. 83, even though it’s highly visible from both east and west directions and a traffic accident has never occurred due to its existence.

For possible solutions, Vecchio said she had spoken with Senior Forester Jeffrey Brockelbank of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Brockelbank told her that the 80-foot-tall tree is healthy and eligible for the DEC’s Big Tree Register which, according to the website, is maintained as an effort to recognize trees of record size. Also, as part of the register, the tree would be protected from the DOT’s efforts to cut it down.

However, it must undergo further testing to determine its exact age and statistics in order to become eligible and the process to become part of the program can take as long as nine months.

Vecchio also reached out to Assemblyman Andy Goodell for help. But, she said his contact with the DOT was bleak and he reported that they could cut it down at any moment.

Beau Duffy, director of communications for the DOT, said in a phone interview on Friday, “The Department of Transportation conducted a roadside safety inspection as part of a pavement patching project and the tree was identified during that safety inspection as a safety hazard because of its proximity to the road and because of its size and because it has been identified as a safety hazard it must be removed.”

Duffy added, “We recognize this is an unfortunate situation but since it is a safety hazard, we must act accordingly to protect the safety of roadway users and remove the tree.”

As of right now, the tree is still standing.