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Residents say man damaged trees owned by Huntress

Amherst officials are investigating reports that a man using a chain saw damaged trees on developer William L. Huntress' property at 2190 and 2220 Wehrle Drive.

Building Commissioner Thomas C. Ketchum declined to discuss the investigation Tuesday except to say he had a report on the incidents and was investigating. "It's under further investigation. I am coordinating our investigation with the [Amherst] Police Department," Ketchum said.

Nearby residents reported seeing a man using a chain saw last week and again Tuesday, cutting furrows that encircled the tree trunks.

These cuttings, made through a process sometimes called "girdling" are often fatal to trees because they interrupt the flow of sap, according to the National Arbor Day Foundation. Vince LoTempio, whose yard on Bellingham Drive backs up to the Huntress property, said he watched last Thursday as a man girdled about a dozen trees.

"He took the chain saw, and he walked around the trunk with it, cutting into the trunk," LoTempio said. "When he saw me, he stopped."

Huntress did not return phone calls to his home and office seeking his comments. He, his son and his companies are the subjects of local and federal environmental investigations because of their tree-cutting activities at the site.

Last month, federal environmental officials ordered Huntress to stop damaging a protected wetland on his property and gave him 30 days to explain how he will undo the damage he caused.

The restoration work will require the replanting of trees, ferns and grasses, and other wetlands plants. Huntress is also required to repair the damage caused by heavy construction equipment.

A spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in New York City declined to comment on the latest reports of tree girdlings, saying the agency is continuing to discuss its restoration order with Huntress' lawyers.

Huntress and his son are negotiating with town officials about how to dispose of 30 violations of Amherst ordinances prohibiting the felling of trees without a permit.

For about a decade, Huntress has been seeking approval from town officials and federal regulators to develop an office park on the site. But residents on Bellingham Drive have managed to block Huntress' plans, saying the office park would threaten a large federally protected wetland.

Residents also have filed a rare "citizen suit" against Huntress and his development company, Acquest Development Co., for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

Huntress maintains there is no federally protected wetland on the site, and he filed suit in federal court challenging the wetlands provisions of the Clean Water Act. And last year, just days before he was scheduled to appear in Amherst Town Court to face charges of illegally cutting trees, Huntress was cutting down more trees on the Wehrle Drive property. Town officials -- summoned to the site by a nearby resident -- checked the property and filed four more charges of illegally felling trees.


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