Historic elm tree cut down despite deep roots in Norris

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NORRIS, Tenn. (WATE) — Norris is a designated Tree City U.S.A. and the people who live there said the historic elm tree in the arboretum was a lot more than just another tree. Nearly everyone WATE 6 On Your Side Reporter Lexi Spivak spoke with said they were shocked and saddened by the news it was being cut down.

“I don’t understand why they’re cutting it down,” said Ploomie Granado, a long-time Norris resident. “The way it’s being done is just not right,” added her husband, Dan.

“The fact that this tree is being removed today, I feel, was handled very poorly by our city council,” said Nancy Sickau.

These Norris residents explained it’s not just the tree, which has been in the park since the 1930s, that they will miss, but it’s also the memories built around it.

“It’s a tree our kids would play around, it’s a tree we would take our grandkids to, it’s the center of town,” said Ploomie Granado. “I remember walking my grandchildren, sitting under the tree, having long conversations with them and it was just a wonderful, wonderful place to be,” added Dan.

As for “why” the tree had to be cut down? The city points to safety concerns. A report from the City of Norris stated the tree had been periodically inspected, steel support cables had been installed and within the last two years a major branch broke off. In the last two months, two of the support cables snapped.

The report from the City of Norris also stated an arborist, who inspected the historic elm, recommended more support cables because the weight of the tree’s canopy was just too heavy. The arborist also suggested trimming the tree’s branches and adding a fence to keep people at a safe distance.

However, the options the arborist presented were not the most cost-effective. According to the report, to add additional support cables, trim 1/3 of the tree canopy’s weight, add a chain-link fence, add signage of the tree’s risk, along with other maintenance and inspection procedures would have cost an estimated $13,850. Another option listed in the report to install a fence with no other tree mitigation was estimated to have cost $12,500.

The option the City of Norris ended up selecting, to remove the entire tree, was estimated to cost $3,000. According to the city’s contract with Cortese Tree Specialists, the tree takedown is actually going to cost closer to $5,850.

While City Manager Scott Hackler did not want to speak on camera on Monday, WATE 6 On Your Side spoke with other council members.

“That’s what Norris is all about, trees, that’s one of the reasons I like living there,” said councilmember Will Grinder. He said he initially wanted to keep the tree, but after doing some of his own inspections, he didn’t feel it was safe. “I took a steel rod and shoved it in a couple of spaces where the foam had been put and in a couple places where they had been some drain holes,” he explained. “The rod went from two feet, from 20 to 30 inches inside the tree, which showed me it was really, really hollow.” Grinder is not an arborist.

Jill Holland with Norris City Council wrote a statement to WATE 6 On Your Side.

“Today was my first day back to school with students — unfortunately I received a surprising and saddening phone call today during a class change. Ms. Spivak informed me that she has just finished interviewing citizens out in Norris that surrounded the 83-year old historic elm on the commons as its limbs were being cut in preparation for the premature end of its life. Visions of being a child in Norris walking to school and stopping under the elm to write in my journal or read a book, posing for my senior class of Norris High School group photo next to the majestic elm, sitting under her boughs to contemplate marriage and career, bringing my children to the commons for picnics beside the elm and taking my 8th grade students on a field trip to sit and write poetry under the tree — watching the elm light up during the fireworks on the commons every 4th of July since I was 8 years old. Knowing that many community members are surprised and hurt by the falling of this great elm that has survived Dutch elm disease, storms, broken limbs yet still maintained 35% new growth with branches reaching out to meet the ground is much to bear. We will all miss her great, canopied arms that watched over us for decades.”

Councilmember Jill Holland wrote in an email to WATE 6 On Your Side

Ploomie Granado said she wished city leaders would have gotten a second opinion. “If they didn’t believe that arborist, why didn’t they get a second opinion?” Granado said. “The Tree Commission said they were all for keeping the tree.”

“The rapid decision to remove the tree was much too hasty and people are very upset, including me,” said Nancy Sickau.

Many of the people who spoke with WATE 6 On Your Side Monday said they will be attending the Norris City Council Meeting scheduled for later Monday evening, at seven o’clock. The City Manager said they were trying to save as many branches as possible to either try and plant additional trees or make memorabilia, such as walking sticks.

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