- Associated Press - Saturday, February 27, 2016

WHITEHALL, Wis. (AP) - The Department of Transportation has cut down a 100-year-old pine tree in the western Wisconsin town of Whitehall that the agency deemed a traffic safety hazard, despite protests from some residents.

Residents gathered Friday as state workers cut down the tree, which served as the town’s annual Christmas tree, Wisconsin Public Radio reported (https://bit.ly/1QkorTZ ).

Last fall, after planning began for a highway resurfacing project, officials determined that the large tree blocked the line of sight for motorists crossing the intersection of Highway 53 and railroad tracks.

Mary Richter, chair of the Save Our Tree Task Force, said residents felt that removing the landmark - which was originally transplanted in 1928 - was unnecessary.

“We wouldn’t have been fighting so hard if we thought it was a safety thing,” Richter said. “The tree was trimmed up high enough you could see under the tree.”

While WisDOT plans to install new lights and traffic arms at the intersection, project development supervisor Tim Mason said the precautions were not enough.

“With a mechanical device, what happens if that device fails? We just want to make sure, if possible, for people to see what’s coming,” Mason said.

Additional safety precautions also are needed because the railroad plans to increase its speed from 25 mph to 40 mph in that stretch of track, he said.

UW-Extension natural resource educator Randy Mell appraised the tree’s value at more than $146,000, based on its health and cultural value.

“It’s really the only tree in the downtown area,” Mell said. “So I kind of felt that it that it was really needed there.”

The task force hopes to turn pieces of the tree’s trunk and branches into a park bench or other memorial for the town of about 1,500 people, Richter said.

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Information from: Wisconsin Public Radio, https://www.wpr.org


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