Asplundh started cutting down the large genip tree in the sidewalk in front of the St. John Board of Elections office on Wednesday, June 20, many residents objected, but government agencies were reluctant to admit responsibility for the arboreal attack.
That is until St. John Administrator Leona Smith, who was off-island at the beginning of the week, set the record straight.
“It is all agencies together doing this,” Smith said about the tree located across from Texaco near where a 21 year old man was stabbed to death on June 19 (see related story.
Smith’s admission came after calls to the Department of Public Works, Water And Power Authority, the V.I. Police Department and a private citizen resulted in no information.
“Not Us,” Says DPW, Schnell
DPW officials said they had no idea about the cutting of the tree — which the sidewalk had been built around — and it must have been done by the owner of the buildings across the street.
An employee of Donald Schnell, who owns the buildings housing his studio and the Fashion Palace across the street, however, refuted that claim.
“We had nothing to do with it,” he said.
The employee did mention WAPA personnel and VIPD officers were in the area before the trimming.
WAPA officials, however, could not confirm their involvement in the tree felling, but said the tree might have been interfering with power lines.
VIPD spokeswoman Shawna Richards, who is based on St. Croix, said she had no knowledge of the tree trimming at all.
“I have no information about any tree,” said Richards, who promised to look into the matter.
Richards did not returns calls requesting additional information as of press time.
No Word from VIPD
While Richards might not have known about the tree it seems that other VIPD officials did.
“The police made us do it,” said an Asplundh employee about the cutting.
In the meantime, residents across the island lamented the damage to the genip tree.
“When I saw it this morning I thought, ‘my God, we want to have a pleasant tree-lined street for residents and visitors alike and to be taking down trees in town without a close examination and someone standing up and taking responsibility is a shame,’” said one resident.
Although the area has been the site of several serious assaults in recent years, a number of residents said the action didn’t make sense.
Not Effective Crime Fighting
“Crime is a concern, but you can’t say that tree removal is an effective crime prevention policy,” said a resident. “If that was the case, Central Park would look like a putting green. If you want to keep a beautiful community with trees this kind of knee jerk reaction to destroy things won’t work.”
“Why does the tree have to suffer,” questioned another resident.
Other residents were impressed by the speed with which the tree was felled.
“It’s amazing they can marshal the forces to cut down the tree in 24 hours, but don’t react to the crime itself with the same amount of speed,” said a resident. “The fact that they could act so fast to cut the tree still doesn’t do a thing to solve the actual crime.”
Helping Several Agencies
While the felling of the tree might be related to the recent homicide, cutting the tree was to the advantage of several agencies, according to Smith.
“Human Services asked for the tree to be removed because the tree is coming up out of the sidewalk,” said Smith. “Also we are in the process of trying to have the VIPD cameras reach up there and they can’t see through the branches. The Board of Elections also asked for the area to be cleaned up because it’s a mess there.”
Although cutting the genip tree down came as a surprise to many residents, the government has had its eye on it for a while, Smith added.
“It was something that was long overdue,” said the administrator.