The simple act of planting a tree often symbolizes something long-lasting — a life, a marriage or the memory of a person. In a small ceremony on the grounds of the Chilmark School last week the symbolism played out when a Stewartia tree was planted in memory of Herbert Hancock, the lifelong Chilmarker who led the town for decades as a selectman, builder, father and husband. Fittingly planted on Arbor Day, the young Stewartia that sprouted from a volunteer seed represents a hardy life, lived well and in service to the town. Long may it bloom and flourish.

Against that backdrop it was especially ironic to drive down the West Tisbury-Edgartown Road on Monday — just a few short miles from where the Stewartia had been lovingly planted and nourished with rich compost — and see chainsaws, chippers and other heavy machinery in action as a state tree clearing project took place along the roadside. Dozens of trees had been marked with orange paint a week or so earlier, drawing the curiosity of more than one Islander and a few phone calls to the Gazette. People were wondering what this was all about.

After several unsuccessful attempts to contact them, spokesmen for the state Department of Transportation finally told the Gazette in an email that the trees were being removed to improve roadside safety.

There are no known reports of recent serious accidents on that stretch of road. Could this simply be a matter of state money being spent for naught? It’s a nice deal for the mainland contractor who gets to come to Martha’s Vineyard for a job. Let’s see, that’s also money spent to bring equipment over (and back) on the ferry, and money to house crews overnight (it rained heavily on Monday, delaying the completion of the job). And the contractor gets to keep the trees, which could otherwise have been cut into lengths and made available as firewood for Islanders.

Add to the irony the fact that in an initiative with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Island recently embarked on a project to maintain and protect its rural roads. During its research, the volunteer group that spearheaded the initiative found, among other things, that widening roads leads to more speeding.

Was this really a needed project to improve road safety or tree boondoggle? The jury is out on that.