Beloved tree removed despite efforts

ARKWRIGHT – A beloved tree is no longer standing on Route 83 in the town of Arkwright. The New York State Department of Transportation cut down an 80-foot cottonwood tree Thursday morning.

The tree was located on family-owned property by Gina Vecchio. She said the state DOT did not give any notice the tree would be cut down Thursday. The tree was marked as a safety hazard by DOT during a survey.

“They were getting ready to do a paving project. They did a safety survey and since the tree was so close to the road, they deemed it a safety hazard. Unfortunately once something is deemed a safety hazard, it has got to be removed. It’s just a liability issue,” Director of Communications for DOT Beau Duffy said.

Vecchio had previously told the OBSERVER she reached out to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to see if the tree would be eligible for the DEC’s Big Tree Register in an effort to save the tree from being cut down.

“(The DOT) didn’t wait for the DEC paperwork to be done. They didn’t even put up guard rails around the ditch,” she said.

Vecchio did compliment the contractor who cut down the tree for being professional and nice. She said he was unaware of the tree being in the litigation process and normally would not cut down a tree in that situation.

“The contractors who came were very kind. They didn’t even know it was considered for protection. He felt bad,” said Vecchio. “They did a good job. They didn’t leave a mess at all.”

While the tree is now removed and is no longer a safety hazard by DOT standards, Vecchio believes the bottom of her driveway is now more dangerous. She said the DOT did not replace her mailbox in its correct spot, did not put up a guardrail or repair her driveway.

“I did talk to the post office today. (The carrier) happened to drive by to check it out. He said ‘That’s not where the box is supposed to be.’ It’s dangerous now more than it was before because the tree has always protected the mailman and people from sliding into the ditch, especially us. I’m going to have to get some reflectors up there because you can’t tell at night now where the ditch is. There still is a lot that needs to be done that they left undone,” Vecchio said.

Vecchio said she did call the DOT and requested these items be addressed. Their response was the DOT does not take phone requests, according to Vecchio, but they did eventually accept her request. Vecchio was most concerned about the guardrail not being put in place.

“Without that guardrail someone could easily slide right into (the ditch) coming up the hill if they lose control. Before if the snow was mounded up around the tree, they would literally bounce off that tree,” she said.

The property has been in Vecchio’s family since 1922 and the tree was almost 100 years old. The tree was special to Vecchio’s parents especially her mother, who passed away earlier this year, who was caused distress when the DOT tried to remove it several years ago. Vecchio said to honor her parents, she plants to plant another tree on the property “somewhere up on a hill where it can be seen by the kids’ for generations to come.”

“I’m going to do a red oak and put it up on the hill in my parent’s favorite spot. We’re going to have a gathering and plant it in their honor and in honor of the native people who traveled across this property,” Vecchio said?

The property is part of the Arkwright trail which the Native Americans took in their travels in the 1700s on their way to Sinclairville. Vecchio also wanted to thank the community for their support over the past few weeks.

“Thank you to the community for being so understanding and being supportive,” she said.

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