The large cottonwood tree behind 303 S. Water St. is nearly gone.
Crews from Cannon River Tree Care LLC, in Northfield prepped at 7 a.m. Monday morning and started cutting off big branches at 8 a.m. and hoisting them down by crane to the street to be cut into small pieces.
A small crowd gathered to watch the tree felling and some put up lawn chairs and brought snacks, while others took pictures along the sidewalk or sat in their cars to take in the action. The entire area was cordoned off for safety reasons.
The cottonwood, which has been a landmark along the Cannon River for decades, created some controversy when the decision was made to cut it down.
Margit Johnson said in a letter to the editor in the Northfield News that she was reluctantly prepared to say goodbye to a “venerable member of the Northfield community” to make room for an expanded bar with outdoor seating.
“While I don’t know its age, it is old enough to have been part of a flourishing west side business district before Highway 3 gutted that half of downtown in the 1960’s,” she said in the letter.
In a response to that letter, attorney David Hvistendahl also submitted a letter to the News giving his reasons for wanting the tree to come down.
“The large cottonwood behind 303 S. Water St. is not being ‘cut down to make room for an expanded bar with outdoor seating,’ he stated in the letter. “It is being cut down because it is a nuisance and would be dangerous in its declining years.”
Hvistendahl went on to say that three experts were consulted regarding the health of the tree and the consensus was that the tree presented a public safety hazard to people on the proposed patio expansion of Froggy Bottoms River Pub and the Riverwalk from dropping limbs, and that it presents a long-term hazard to all nearby structures.
The tree is only inches away from Basil’s Pizza at deck level and “may be pushing on the building foundation below ground level,” Hvistendahl said in the letter.
“A large limb from the tree could crush any of the nearby buildings, possibly killing or injuring inhabitants,” he said in the letter. “Even a smaller branch could kill or injure patrons, given the height of the fall.”
Theologia Pitsavis, owner of Basil’s Pizza for more than 50 years, said that the tree behind her business probably saved lives about 12 years ago when lightning struck the large cottonwood and not folks dining outside.
“If [the lightning] would have hit another place, it would have been very bad,” she said.
One crew member said that it could take all day Monday and possibly into Tuesday to finish the job.
Reach Managing Editor Jerry Smith at 645-1136, or follow him on Twitter.com @NewsNorthfield