By: Ken Borsuk | Column | Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 8:10 p.m.
Protesters say too many trees have been removed from the area near the railroad tracks in the Riverside section of Greenwich on Dec. 15, 2020.
Photo: Ken Borsuk / Hearst Connecticut Media /
GREENWICH — Holding up signs and chanting “save our trees,” a group of residents gathered near Riverside School on Tuesday morning to protest Metro-North Railroad’s clear-cutting in the area as part of a maintenance project.
Since last week, work crews have been cutting down trees along the railroad tracks. The unhappy residents said they had unsuccessfully reached out to the town and the state to stop Metro-North.
“We’ve tried negotiating, now we’re shaming,” town resident Jane Brash said at the protest.
The trees were targeted for safety reasons, according to Metro-North officials. The goal is keep branches and trees along Metro-North’s right of way from falling onto the tracks. The tree-trimming program has been accelerated, Metro-North spokesperson Meredith Daniels said, before winter hits, when fallen trees and branches often disrupt train service.
“We wanted to bring attention to the situation and hopefully something will happen,” said Brash, one of the protest organizers. “People saw what happened when Metro-North clear-cut the trees along I-95 between Exits 3 and 4. It looks horrible. We care about our town. We care about the environment. We care about our wildlife. We care about our children.
”They are also frustrated by the lack of communication with Metro-North and its plan, if any, to plant new trees, she said.
“We understand that they are concerned about trees falling onto the tracks and disrupting service, but that doesn’t mean they have to cut down every tree,” Brash said.
Brash also said that removing the trees will increase noise in the area.The noise from cars on the highway and trains on the tracks has“increased dramatically” without the buffer of trees, town resident Mary Childs said.
“It seems like their strategy isn’t just to prune trees or cut down the dead ones, but to cut down every tree. They are clear-cutting everything,”Childs said. “We have tried everything to reach them. We have called and reached out to everyone we can and there has been no response. And our understanding is they’re going to continue this all along the tracks.
”First Selectman Fred Camillo said he has talked to residents and Metro-North, even walking the property with them.
It was unfortunate he did not receive more advance notice of the work,Camillo said. But there is little the town can do because Metro-North owns the property, he said.
“I understand they want to be heard by Metro-North, but we can’t control what happens on this property,” Camillo said when asked for comment. “Any trees or branches that could come down onto the tracksor the power lines or the nearby playground are going to be taken down.
”By working with Metro-North now, Camillo said he and Tree Warden Gregory Kramer are trying to save some of the trees.
Kramer said the town and Metro-North are in “constant contact.” He met with its workers at the site Tuesday and was told no new trees would be planted on the Metro-North property.
However, there will be planting on the school side of the property,completed through a public/private partnership that Camillo and Kramer put together.
“We will do whatever we can to get them the coverage they want there,”Camillo said.
During the meeting, Metro-North agreed to not remove nearly 20 trees and shrubs, Kramer said. He is hoping to walk farther along the line of the planned work in the coming weeks to save more trees.
About 25 people attended the rally outside the school, including members of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, the Riverside Association and the Riverside Garden Club.
Cheryl Dunson, president of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy’s board of directors, said the protest was about more than just the aesthetic value of the trees. It’s also about losing their environmental benefits.
“Instead of mindless clear-cutting, there ought to be judicious removal,”Dunson said. “There should be a real assessment first before they just come in and start cutting down trees.”
She said it’s unfortunate that the clear-cutting is happening near theschool, “because at the same time everyone is talking about the environment and climate change and planting trees, they’re removing an asset,” she said.
“Metro-North sees these trees as an obstacle, not a community asset we should try and manage. What kind of an example does that set for the children?” Dunson said.
An online petition to save the trees has been set up at Change.org. As of Tuesday afternoon, over 775 people had signed it.
The petition calls for residents to “use your voice to tell our elected officials to continue to fight for our environment and our town” and speak out against the “decimation of trees and wooded land bordering the railroad.”