A red-faced Gov. William Donald Schaefer is promising to replace seven trees felled by state work crews in what some residents of this Washington suburb are calling the Bethesda Chain Saw Massacre.
"I'm really sorry because we try not to mess up," Schaefer said Wednesday, surveying the seven tree stumps. "We made a mistake and we're going to do everything we can to rectify it."The blunder by crews working for the state comes at a miserable time for Schaefer, who is a third of the way through a ballyhooed campaign to plant 1 million trees as a means of enhancing the Maryland environment.
"I am tree conscious," he reminded reporters.
They accompanied him on a visit with mechanical engineer Arun Vohra, whose home had been shielded from a nearby roadway by the seven trees.
Schaefer, with state Transportation Secretary James Lighthizer in tow, apologized to Vohra, a 46-year-old native of India who moved here three years ago.
Actually, it was Vohra's call to state officials months ago that started the painful chain of events.
Vohra told the state highway administration he believed a pine tree on a public right of way near his property was diseased and should be removed.
Authorities later determined that the pine tree was not diseased and had merely come under heavy attack from woodpeckers.
By that time, though, crews had visited the site on two occasions and cut down seven other, perfectly healthy trees - two pines, three blooming dogwoods, a giant lilac and a cedar that soared 80 feet to 100 feet.
The pine tree a few yards away was left untouched.
Vohra was upset. "I acted a little crazy," he said. He called the governor's mansion, his state delegate, his congresswoman and other state officials. The ruckus found its way into the news reports and was dubbed the Bethesda Chain Saw Massacre.
Wednesday's visit was friendly enough, though.
Vohra served coffee and snacks to the governor and his aides while Schaefer surveyed the damage and pronounced it a result of poor communications, misunderstandings and a failure to properly mark the tree that originally had been the target of concern.
"We made a mistake . . . we learned," said Schaefer.
The governor was glum about the massive cedar.
"That was a great tree," he acknowledged. He and Vohra posed for cameras standing on its stump.