70-year-old mahogany tree in Christiansted to be cut down

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ST. CROIX - Beginning some time next week, contractors will start cutting back some trees and remove a huge tree from the Christiansted Historic Site that has begun undermining infrastructure.

David Goldstein, director of interpretation and education for the National Park Service, said they have contracted SF General Maintenance Services LLC to undertake the maintenance trimming of trees at the Christiansted National Historic Site and have contracted Michael Morgan, Agro-forestry specialist and certified arborist, to supervise the pruning and the removal of one of the huge mahogany trees on the property.

Goldstein said the mahogany tree is about 70 years old and stands prominently at the edge of the site's property on Hospital Street, directly south of the 1830 Customs House.

He said that over the years, the tree's root system has continued to expand and has infiltrated a storm drain and sewage system, is damaging the roadway and sidewalk and has been allowing water into the foundation of the Customs House. Because of how the branches of the tree also have expanded, the tree poses a threat to utility lines and buildings in the area in times of high winds or storms, Goldstein said.

Joshua Torres, National Park Service archaeologist and cultural resource program manager, said there is a wealth of history in the area around the tree, as the area served as living quarters for thousands of slaves during the transition period between when they arrived from Africa to when they were auctioned off to new owners.

Torres said he plans to monitor the project closely to ensure that no important artifacts are disturbed or lost.

"When we ultimately begin to remove this tree, I will be closely involved and monitoring and looking to make sure that we are not disrupting anything important and that whatever is disturbed during the process of the removal, we collect material so that we can tell part of the story," he said.

Goldstein said the National Park Service takes the removal of the mahogany tree extremely seriously and is coordinating with the V.I. Cultural Center to acknowledge the historical significance of the tree and its importance as a part of the community.

"Many people have memories under that tree. I, myself, have sat there and enjoyed the shade, and it will take some getting used to when it is gone," he said. "It has been a part of our park and our community, and perhaps some people may want to just take time and say goodbye to it before it is gone."

Goldstein said the removal of the tree is going to help provide a look into the past because once the stump is removed, it will give them a first look at the floor of the actual slave market that was used centuries ago.

He said with the removal of the one tree, the National Park Service will add two mahogany saplings in D. Hamilton Jackson Park. Additionally, in keeping with National Park Service policy that dictates planting more trees than are removed, they will add an additional 100 trees to the Hemer's Peninsula portion of the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve during the course of this summer.

The tree's stump will be left in place and systematically removed throughout the year to preserve the adjacent cultural resources and allow for reconstruction of the damaged storm water system.

The project should span no more than a week, and contractors anticipate having to temporarily close a portion of Hospital Street just before Company Street for four hours, but that closure will be announced when it is determined.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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