Although the scene of trees coming down is often aesthetically disturbing, township officials say it's a necessary project due to disease and the potential for human injury.
The township is paying Integrity Tree Services of Grandville $75,000 to remove 95 trees and trim another 20 at the cemetery.
“Every year, I have paid exorbitant amounts to tree services to trim these trees,” said Township Clerk Carolyn Boersma, who also serves as cemetery superintendent. “A lot of them were dead. The problem continued.”
With the blessing of the Township Board, she hired an arborist to inspect cemetery trees on both the east and west sides of Fruitport Road.
“I'm not an expert, so I paid for an arborist to come in,” Boersma said. “He and I walked the whole cemetery, both sides, and identified trees that should be cut down or should be trimmed. That's why you see all the different colored markings on the trees.”
The rear portion of the cemetery’s west side, near the intersection of Beach and Railroad streets, proved particularly problematic, according to Boersma.
“In the back section, those trees were way too close together. Some of them are dead,” she said. “It was a suggestion, and I thought it prudent, to just clear-cut that. It's less costly because they don't have to work around the stones. I'm not clear-cutting the whole cemetery — just that back portion. There were way too many trees in there. Every year, we would clean up huge branches that had fallen out of the trees. You don't know when they're coming down.”
Boersma said liability concerns are the main reason for the tree removal project.
“I see it as a liability issue to people, to cars and to the monuments,” she said. “We have been addressing it. Safety is key.”
Spring Lake Village resident Janet Tyson is upset about the tree removal.
“I was wondering why in the world they decided to cut down all those trees, including some that seemed to be in very good health,” she said. “I think it's disgraceful. We cannot afford to be cutting down trees. Global warming is a reality. It's happening now. We need to do all we can to mitigate it and not exacerbate it. I don't know if they're thinking about that at all.”
Wednesday afternoon, Integrity Tree Services employee Joe Hayden worked the remote control for the bucket that hoisted co-worker Milo DeVries to the top of a tree on the west side of the cemetery near Fruitport Road. Besides trying to work around gravestones, Hayden said the weather has been challenging, and depending on future conditions, the project could be completed in about two weeks.
“It's pretty difficult,” Hayden said. “You've got to take your time and go slow, nice and easy, and take it down in smaller pieces. You have to have respect for the graves and the people buried there. This crane weighs 60,000 pounds. It will sink. You have to pay attention to what you're doing and take it nice and slow.”
Boersma said she has been planning for this day for many years, and the Township Board has authorized spending $2,000 per year on new tree planting. She said an arborist will be keeping an eye on the cemetery’s trees.
“Going forward, the arborist will be helping with where to plant the trees so they are not in the way of the graves,” Boersma said. “Every time we have to dig for a burial, we dig up large sections of roots. That can kill a tree. Quite honestly, this was long overdue.”