Friends of Blackstone/Franklin Warn of Potential Tree Die-off in Franklin Square

Neighborhood Association says big ‘no’ to needle kiosk in park

The historic White Elm trees in Franklin Square carve out a majestic square of wilderness in the urban landscape of the South End, but the future of those 150-year-old giants is now in jeopardy this week.

Parks Commissioner Chris Cook and the Friends of Franklin Square reported this week that the elms in Franklin Square were found to have Dutch Elm disease – a disease that migrates through the root structure of old trees and kills them off in a period of five to 10 years.

Cook said on Tuesday at the South End Forum that three of the trees in Franklin Square will be taken down on Friday morning, with the Department moving fast to prevent it from spreading to all the trees there.

“It’s absolutely devastating,” he said, noting that they are monitoring the rest of the trees but don’t have a solution beyond quick removal.

Toni Crothall, of the Friends of Franklin Square and co-president of the Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association (BFNA), said the news of the demise of the trees has been extremely sad.

“Our Elm trees in Franklin Square are dying,” she said at the BFNA meeting on Monday. “The elm trees in Blackstone Square died and were chopped down over a number of years. The rest in Franklin Square is still full of them. Some are 170 years old and were planted when it was laid out. In an urban setting where you have trees and grass and we keep raking up all their food, the trees are starving. If we don’t come up with a proactive plan for Franklin Square now, every year we will lose more and more elm trees until they are gone.”

To that end, the Friends have employed an arborist, and the City has sent out its arborist as well. The solution is something the City cannot afford to pay for, but perhaps something the Friends can pay for.

She said estimates are that if something radical isn’t done over a three year period, all of the elms would likely be lost in 10 years.

An arborist has suggested a program that would cost about $60,000 to $75,000 over a three-year period – and it would carry no guarantees.

The arborist would address the nutrition in the soil making applications four times a year for about $16,000 per year. They could also include at an additional cost stem injections and other services, which would land the plan on the higher end of the estimate.

Crothall and the Friends suggested to BFNA members that mitigation money from the Harrison Albany Block project be used to save the trees.

“It is going to cost a lot to save them,” she said. “We are getting mitigation funds any day now from Harrison Albany Block and we wanted to suggest using them for this when they come in. We would like to put that on the table. If we do this, we could extend the life of the trees for a very, very long time.”

The City has promised to provide “reactive” care, meaning that if diseased trees are found, they would use money from their budget to cut them down.

BFNA Treasurer Matt Mues said he was told the three initial cut-downs would take place starting at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. He said there are some preservationists coming to harvest pieces of the old trees for use.

•NEEDLE KIOSKS A ‘NO’

The BFNA summarily rejected a plan to put a City-owned needle kiosk in Franklin Square, where so many needles are found by neighbors. The kiosk plan has been floated by the City for the last several months, with members of the South End Forum Opiate Working Group putting out a call last month for neighborhoods that might be interested in hosting a kiosk.

There had been some interest from Franklin Square folks initially, but the larger neighborhood was overwhelmingly against the idea of kiosks – saying they would attract people using needles and would only be a band-aid for the larger problem.

“I oppose it,” said Jonathan Alves. “I think it’s a band-aid solution to a gaping wound in the City of Boston that the governor and the mayor have failed to resolve…We are the ones that will up the needles and put them in the kiosk, not the users….These kiosks are going down the wrong path…We can put 100 needle boxes around the city and we will be the only ones picking them up and we’ll be filling that kiosk up until we die.”

•RETURN OF THE HUMAN QUADRANT

It’s no science fiction tale, or a leviathan from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, but the Human Quadrant is real in Blackstone Square…and it’s returning.

The Human Quadrant may suffer from bad branding, but it certainly has served a useful purpose over the last year in Blackstone to keep one portion of the park free from any dog-use activities.

President Toni Crothall said they began the Quadrant last year, designating the area abutting Washington Street as a dog-free area so it could be used by humans to sunbath, picnic or exercise without worrying about the lingerings of dog urine or feces.

Particularly supportive has been exercise guru Chad Flahive, who has run summer classes on Blackstone for several years. His classes have been more productive and safe for attendees since the Quadrant came around.

While some thought it absurd to need a designated place for humans, it was agreed that it was a good idea once again.

Signs will be going up soon once again.

•LACK OF ELECTIONS CHALLENGED

Monday night’s BFNA meeting exhibited some rare internal fireworks within the organization – one that typically sticks to straightforward, orderly business meetings. However, last year during a transition year in the leadership of BFNA, the Board forgot to have elections in May. So, that meant the current Board and its officers had not been duly elected.

The solution from the Board was to have a confirmation vote on Monday, and proceed with new elections this coming May.

Not so fast, though, said former President Eric Huang.

Huang has been removed from the Board for about a year now, and he challenged the validity of the current Board and called for an election rather than a confirmation vote.

In fact, he said he would like to be considered a candidate in any such election.

“The current make-up of the Board is unelected,” he said. “Every decision the Board made is without authority. We have to have an election, which is different than a confirmation vote.”

Member David Stone said they have worked for the best interests, which should be acceptable.

“We represented the neighborhood and we acted in good faith,” he said. “We did our job as if we were elected to the Board.”

“We need to discuss this,” said Huang. “This is not a dictatorship.”

That’s when emotions got hot.

“You are standing alone in this fight and your fight is to burn down the house around you,” said Member Mark Ott. “I’m sorry to have to point this out.”

Said Huang, “I don’t even understand what that means, but I’m coming from a place where I have two years of experience as president of the neighborhood association.”

Mues called on Huang to stop the argument.

“Why do you want to argue?” he asked. “Everyone is just trying to help.”

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