Dead trees a $50K 'hiccup' for Falmouth Route 1 project

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FALMOUTH — Many newly planted shade trees along U.S. Route 1 have died and will have to be replaced, likely because of insufficient watering.

Town Manager Nathan Poore on Friday said this is the first “hiccup” in the Route 1 reconstruction project, which has otherwise “gone quite well.”

He said 52 shade trees were planted on the mile-long stretch of highway. He estimated a third or more of them have already died.

“We felt it was important to get the word out there that the town is very much aware and in control of it,” Poore said. “We will certainly take all measures to ensure we have healthy trees that meet specifics of the contract.”

Poore said the total cost of the tree project was “in the neighborhood of $50,000.” The total cost of the long-planned Route 1 project, which began last spring, is around $12.3 million.

The contract is with Sargent Corp., the general contractor for the entire project. Sargent has taken full responsibility for the trees and will replace the ones that must be removed, Poore said.

“We’re pleased the contractor is taking responsibility for it,” he said, “while at same time very disappointed it happened in the first place.”

Ian McCarthy, Sargent’s project manager, said he did not know the exact number of trees that must be removed, but “trees that don’t look like they’re going to make it” will be replaced.

“We’re disappointed because this was a really visual part of the project,” McCarthy said.

He said overall the project has gone smoothly, and that it is “just disappointing to have problems at this point in the project.”

Poore said the problem likely was caused by “inadequate watering.”

He said the trees themselves were not the problem, since they were inspected at the nursery by a subcontractor and a third-party expert hired independently by the town.

Poore said the trees passed inspection prior to and after delivery, and the planting process was monitored. It was after planting that the trees began to die.

“We did not allow the planting of trees that were not healthy,” Poore said.

McCarthy said there may have been a combination of causes, including that the trees were planted at a “hard time of year,” but agreed “it doesn’t look like watering was sufficient.”

Poore said each tree needs 10 to 15 gallons of water between two and four times a week during its first two years.

“Watering needs to occur even if it rains, you need to concentrate a lot of water each time in that area,” Poore said.

All but one of the new katsura trees, which are short and cone-shaped, will be removed, he said. Many red maples, which are tall and skinny, will also be removed. The remaining maples will be monitored for new budding, and a decision to save or replace them will be made in a few weeks.

Like the maples, all the elm trees now have brown leaves and are in poor condition, Poore said, but they will also be monitored for new budding. If the town can save them, he said, “we’ll try to do that.”

Ginkos, which are clustered at the center of the Route 1 business district, are doing well, the town manager said.

Poore said “the town will not be responsible for any additional cost for trees, installation and maintenance.”

The trees that are removed probably won’t be replaced until next spring, he said, because the supply is “not very good right now.”

He said it is possible to find “inferior trees” to replace the ones being removed, but “our opinion is it’s far more important to have a healthy tree and wait a year for installation. It’s a product that will last a long time, and we prefer to look at long run rather than short run.”

Poore said the Route 1 project has otherwise been a “very successful project, given its size and complexity.”

New mast arms for street signals went up last week, and those will be tested within the next week. Paving will continue for the next few weeks, and Poore said a completion date of early-to-mid August is expected.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Sidebar Elements

Green ribbons mark the recently installed shade trees that have to be replaced along U.S. Route 1 in Falmouth.

Falmouth Town Manager Nathan Poore said the dead tree problem is the first “hiccup” in the Route 1 project, which is otherwise “going well.” Paving will continue for the next few weeks.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or