BANGOR (AP) – A Texas billionaire plans to run ads in four area newspapers apologizing for a 10-hour traffic jam that stranded thousands of motorists along the only highway to and from Mount Desert Island.

“This has truly been a massive mess,” supermarket magnate Charles Butt told the Bangor Daily News on Monday from his San Antonio office, where he runs the H.E. Butt Grocery Co. “I’m embarrassed by it and very sorry.”

Traffic was snarled Thursday along U.S. 1A and Route 3 as local contractors hauled a 50-year-old apple tree from Ellsworth to Butt’s waterfront estate in Northeast Harbor.

The tree, which measured 30 feet by 20 feet, took up both sides of the two-lane road. Telephone, electrical and cable TV crews had to ride ahead and lift wires so the tree could pass under. The contractors hired a police escort, but there was no police traffic control or even a warning to the public about when and how long the tree transport would take.

The tree was so wide that even the shoulder of the road was blocked.

Crews stopped whenever there was room to pull over enough to let cars pass, but those chances were rare, according to contractor Steven O’Halloran of Ellsworth.

O’Halloran, owner of O’Halloran Machinery Transport, said last week he was pleased that the transport was done without any injuries and faster than he expected. He thought it might take up to two days to get the tree to Northeast Harbor.

O’Halloran said Monday he also will sign the open letter of apology that is scheduled to appear in local weekly newspapers on Thursday, in addition to the Bangor Daily News.

“No one intended to harm anyone,” the hauler said. “No one woke up in the morning and said, ‘Let’s cause eastern Maine some aggravation.”‘

Butt, who has earned a reputation in Texas for his philanthropy, seemed most upset that people would think him inconsiderate or disrespectful to others. He said Monday he had no idea that moving the tree would disrupt so many people’s schedules, responsibilities and plans for the day.

“We felt badly about it. All the people involved,” Butt said. “I contracted to have the tree moved. It was not identified to me that it was going to cause any problems, so this whole thing came as an enormous surprise.”

Considering the problems it did cause, he said, “we thought it would be the right thing to do” to apologize publicly.

Bianca Cooke of Trenton, who lost four hours of pay after spending five hours in traffic trying to get to work at Somesville One Stop last Thursday, was not overly impressed when she heard that Butt was going to run newspaper ads to apologize.

“He has to think about the people around him and how he’s affecting them,” she said.

AP-ES-06-24-03 1030EDT

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