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First They Came for the Trees…

Last August a tree-cutting crew took a 100-foot maple in front of my house on Arlington Place in Allentown. They took several actually, but this one was unique in that its hollow trunk was filled with concrete from about four feet to the ground. So the crew, who were paid to saw wood and not concrete, left a four-foot-high stump.

At the time, the city didn’t have dime to pay for stump removal, and no one knew if they ever would. So some neighbors commissioned sculptor Michael “Cousin” Kelly to turn the stump into a planter. I wrote about it here.

Cousin did a nice job with some uncooperative wood, as you can see. (The bottom of the planter represents a turtle.) The gash to the right is where the cutting crew hit the concrete.

Two weeks ago a crew of county workers came into the neighborhood grinding stumps. The city, it turns out, has got a hold of some FEMA money to pay for stump removal, and county public works crews are moving through the city. Our neighborhood’s custom-carved flower planter is on that FEMA contract, but we pretty easily dissuaded that crew from turning Cousin’s work into sawdust. I called the office of the acting commissioner of Erie County Public Works, and they agreed to leave the stump alone.

Of course, government’s not perfect: The crews returned a week later to grind the stump, but I called the office of the acting commissioner again, and the crews affably went away—they could see that it ought not to be destroyed, and when they heard it was filled with concrete, they didn’t especially want to go at it with a stump grinder.

The day after that second attempt, I got this letter from Jeff Brett, the City of Buffalo’s newly appointed forester (and entire department of forestry, for that matter). Brett said that my request to have the stump removed from the FEMA contract had been denied. (He seems to think that I wanted all the stumps near our house saved. In fact, the county’s crew removed all the other stumps in the neighborhood on their past two visits.) If I wanted, he said, I could apply later to have the plot declared “unacceptable for planting” so the city would not plant a replacement tree; then I could place “a carving of my own where the stump used to be.”

I’ve been trying to get Brett on the phone all morning, but two weeks into his new job he still doesn’t have his own phone.

UPDATE: Jeff Brett just called and apologized for having written a response to a complaint (which I didn’t file in the first place; it must have come through, garbled, to the city forester via the county Public Works Department) based on a little bit of bad information. He says he won’t take any action. So our neighborhood gets to keep the planter.


  • Peter A Reese

    Good thing you didn’t have Buck Quigley handle this matter for you. That sucker would be artistic mulch by now!