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Loss of century-old Court Street tree in Canton angers some residents

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CANTON — A decision by St. Lawrence Federal Credit Union to chop down a rare, century-old tree to make way for a parking lot has upset some members of the village Tree Committee and other citizens who had been lobbying to save the giant cucumber magnolia.

For decades, the tree was located behind the St. Thomas Moore Newman Center, 33 Court St. The credit union has purchased the Newman Center property and will be tearing down the building to make way for a new credit union facility and parking lot.

The credit union will be moving out of its Court Street office space in the old Canton Fire Station.

Richard W. Grover, a member of the village Tree Committee, said he was driving on Court Street on Thursday morning when he discovered the tree had been chopped down the previous day.

“I was totally shocked because there had been so much positive energy into saving this tree,” Mr. Grover said. “We were very professional and businesslike in dealing with them. We were anticipating a dialogue here. Instead, we got what we got.”

The tree was about 42 inches in diameter and was an estimated 130 years old. A couple of small cucumber magnolia trees have been planted recently on the SUNY Canton campus, but the Court Street tree was much larger and older.

Mr. Grover said that tree species is more common in the southern part of New York state and in the Appalachian region. It produces green and yellow blossoms in mid-May and small non-edible reddish fruits that look like young cucumbers.

“It was definitely a unique tree in this part of the world,” he said. “This tree survived winters and ice storms.”

Todd R. Mashaw, president of the St. Lawrence Federal Credit Union, based in Ogdensburg, met with members of the Tree Committee at the site May 27 to discuss their concerns.

He explained the credit union’s position in a June 23 letter to Joette H. Halgado, chairwoman of the Tree Committee.

“The board has made a final decision that the cucumber tree will come down,” Mr. Mashaw said in his letter.

He said several factors helped the board reach its conclusion to cut down the tree, including concern that keeping the tree would reduce by two the number of parking spaces in the credit union’s new parking lot and also reduce maneuvering ability for emergency vehicles.

The board also considered the impact that site excavation would have on the tree and root system, reduction of the traffic lane by up to 8 feet and vehicle safety.

Mr. Mashaw said the Tree Committee’s suggestion to use permeated asphalt was researched, but that type of asphalt is susceptible to frost damage in cold climates like the north country’s.

However, Mr. Grover said, permeated asphalt has been used in northern states such as Michigan and Minnesota and the material works well near trees because it allows runoff liquids to permeate through the pavement.

Mayor Mary Ann Ashley said she wrote a letter supporting the Tree Committee’s advocacy efforts, but she also believes private property owners have the right to do what they want on their own property as long as they follow code regulations.

“Our board is very clear that private property owners can make decisions about their own property,” Ms. Ashley said. “We still appreciate them choosing to build in Canton and we welcome them to the community.”

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