The disappearance of several old trees in Belfast has prompted the city to put the brakes on Central Maine Power Company’s tree trimming operations until a new notification policy goes into effect.

City Manager Joe Slocum told the City Council Dec. 21 that around 10 trees had been cut down inside the bypass during a short period by crews contracted through CMP to trim, and in some cases remove, trees that pose a threat to power lines.

The city had subsequently received complaints from some homeowners who either had trees removed or learned that a tree was slated for removal, Slocum said.

Belfast resident Roy Rogers addressed the Council Dec. 21 about a tree that had, until recently, stood in front of his Union Street property. Rogers said CMP trimmed the tree at one point, leading him to conclude that the utility had moved on. To his surprise and dismay, the cutting crews returned and removed the whole tree, leaving a pile of logs on the sidewalk in front of the house.

Rogers said the tree was healthy and had provided a visual and acoustic barrier between his and neighboring properties, and he questioned the authority of the tree warden to make what he called a “unilateral decision” as to which trees stay or go.

Belfast Tree Warden Didier Bonner-Ganter said there were “a number of factors” in the removal of that particular tree. Among them, he said, were that it was growing up into the wires and was a Norway Maple, which is classified as an invasive species.

Another tree slated for removal was leaning heavily over the road, Bonner-Ganter said. A third was determined to have a large cavity in the trunk not visible from the street. These were seen as hazardous, and in each case, he said, he consulted with the CMP arborist before making his recommendation.

Councilor Roger Lee asked about the criteria for cutting trees. He asked if the idea was to cut hazardous trees, those interfering with power lines or if it had something to do with Norway Maples.

Lee recommended a notification system he had seen in another town, where an eight-by-10-inch notice was affixed to the tree for a period of a month before the tree was cut. This method allowed the public to weigh in.

Slocum said Lee’s idea could potentially be written into the city code but he recommended adopting the policy immediately. Slocum ran the idea past Kris Spiegel of CMP who attended the meeting. Spiegel confirmed that the process could be slowed down to allow for a longer notification time.

The Council voted to put a policy similar to what Lee described in place immediately.

In other business, the Council:

• Gave preliminary approval to the Brooks Preservation Society to use
the Upper Bridge parking lot as a temporary terminal for excursion rail trains next summer. BPS indicated this could include improvements to the parking lot, the addition of a portable ticket booth and a portable toilet.

• Agreed to share the cost with First Church of building an eight-car parking lot on the Court Street side of the church. Under the agreement, the city would pay half of the estimated $16,000 construction cost, and accept maintenance of the lot. Councilor Nancy Hamilton opposed the motion.

• Discussed lighting Kirby Pond, a.k.a. “the Muck,” at night. Currently there are lights but no public switch. Following Councilor Mike Hurley’s recommendation, the Council voted to install a manual switch, possibly on a timer, and hang a “Skate at your own risk” sign in the Lincolnville Avenue parking area.

• Approved the purchase by the Police Department of a $5,000 video system for cruisers, waiving the city’s bidding policy.