CT Examiner: Connecticut Triples Budget for Tree Cutting Prompting Concerns 9.2.2023

In five years, Connecticut Department of Transportation’s budget for tree maintenance has nearly tripled in an effort to tackle what the department calls a “critical need” to address dangerous trees along the state’s roadways after years of drought and damage by invasives like emerald ash borer and gypsy moth.

But those efforts have raised the concerns of nonprofits dedicated to protecting some of the state’s trees and parkways who say that the department’s maintenance decisions can be haphazard and needlessly loss of mature trees.

CTDOT currently employs two Connecticut-licensed arborists within the Bureau of Highway Operations, and a department spokesperson told CT Examiner that four others on staff are in the process of obtaining a state arborist license. About 60 workers are assigned to tree maintenance.

Wes Haynes, executive director of the Merritt Park Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing and celebrating the National Register and National Scenic Byway told CT Examiner that his group’s relationship with the construction side of the Department of Transportation is cordial and productive, but the maintenance side is another story.

“We don’t work very well with [maintenance] on that,” Haynes said. “Sometimes, they will get their wrist slapped by us and they don’t misbehave for a while and then, all of a sudden, they are back to taking [mature] trees down.”

Haynes said he believes the disconnect between the construction side and the maintenance side might be due to where the money comes from.

“The key is that there is federal money in the construction projects that triggers our participation.” Haynes said. “There is usually not federal money in the maintenance of the parkway and, therefore, maintenance feels they are independent of being good stewards of the parkway.”

Haynes suggested that a lack of funding might encourage a broader-brush approach to highway maintenance.

“They take down trees that they feel have to be taken down, but we do not always agree with them,” Haynes to CT Examiner. “They take them down, I believe, because they are wildly underbudgeted and, so, they get one shot at it. And, they say, ‘Well even if the tree isn’t a problem now it’s going to be a problem in five years, but let’s take it down prematurely now. So, there is no real planning that goes into the maintenance sector. They are pretty independent of the rest of the agency.”

But in emailed answers to questions sent by CT Examiner, the department suggested that what may seem like needless cutting to the untrained eye is necessary for the safety of vehicles on the state’s roadways.

“Dead, diseased and decaying trees must be removed. Trees that have grown into the ‘clear zone,’ which is the safe space along the side of the roadway, are also removed,” department officials explained. “This is to save lives in the event of a crash or vehicle leaving the roadway. A car crashing into a tree is like hitting a brick wall. Seventy-two people died between 2020-2022 due to crashing into a tree or having a tree fall on their vehicle…. Healthy trees are not removed unless they impact the clear zone and roadway safety.”

According to CTDOT, the department’s budget for tree maintenance has increased from $4.9 million in 2018, to $13.5 million last fiscal year and the department has had no difficulties hiring workers or employing sufficient numbers of trained staff.

The department told CT Examiner that its crews and outside contractors supervise, inspect and ensure safety while tree removal projects occur, and a Connecticut-licensed arborist and environmental planner review maintenance projects that involve tree cutting. A licensed arborist is not required to be on-site following initial evaluation, however.

Still, Haynes and others say there is a disconnect and that there needs to be more communication between CTDOT and conservancy and other groups.

Haynes noted that the maintenance division will often attend meetings of the Merritt Parkway Advisory Commission and “sometimes they will mention they are doing tree work and sometimes they do not. It’s completely random.”

JoAnn Messina, who has served as executive director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy for the last 16 years, told CT Examiner that she’s often found that the maintenance division was uncommunicative as far as the number of trees that are taken down.

Messina estimated that “hundreds” of trees along the highway of I-95, the Merritt Parkway and Route 1 in Greenwich have been removed in the past year.

“They are supposed to talk to the town and the tree warden; but they often talk in generalities,” Messina said. “We need more communication. They need to realize that there is a benefit to having trees for the environment.”

There are currently several tree removal projects that are either currently ongoing or that were recently completed on the Merritt, especially in the Greenwich area, and in western Connecticut on I-84; and along the Route 7 Interstate in Norwalk and New Canaan.

Haynes said he’s hoping the state’s vegetation guidelines can be updated and “that we can get a new state policy that will help us protect the trees that do not need to come down and also to replant the trees that have to come down with new trees.”

Haynes said: “I think these are all fixable problems. We just need a little more enlightenment within the DOT and a little more trust in that we are not just out there to save every tree that is a threat to traffic. We want to keep the character of the parkway and the character of the parkway includes mature trees and young trees.”

Steven Trinkaus, who has a degree in forest management and whose business, Southbury-based Trinkaus Engineering, conducts civil engineering work, told CT Examiner that CTDOT “seems to be doing randomized clearing” of trees, especially near the Newtown and Southbury area along I-84.
Trinkaus said trees, even along the highways, have benefits.

Trees up to 10 years old “sequester about 13 pounds of carbon per year,” said Trinkaus, while trees between 10 and 80 years old, which are what is normal in New England, sequester about 48 pounds of carbon a year.

“That is great for the environment,” he said. “Trees have many benefits in that they provide shade, trees intercept rainfall and they can take in carbon dioxide and give you oxygen back.”


Robert Storace 

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950


This story originally appeared in the CT Examiner at: Connecticut Triples Budget for Tree Cutting Prompting Concerns – CT Examiner

The Tree Doctors – recorded on March 30, 2023

The Tree Doctors Are Coming!

Recorded on Thursday, March 30th


You have questions and we have answers!
Join us for a panel discussion and Q&A with:
John Conte
Licensed Landscape Architect, Member Town Greenscape Committee
Dr. Gregory Kramer
Superintendent of Parks & Trees. Town Tree Warden.
Allan Fenner
Consulting Arborist
Planning a Landscape
Concerned about disease
Insect infestation
Feeding or Pruning
Learn ways to better care for your trees
Register to access the recording!

Greenwich Sentinel: Why is it important to advocate for our Trees? 7.8.2022

By JoAnn Messina

The Greenwich Tree Conservancy (GTC) plants trees in partnership with the town and educates on the important role they play in our community’s overall health, but how do we protect trees? You may not be aware that we speak in support of tree health at both the local and state level.

Locally, as you have likely witnessed, many developers clearcut properties before beginning their work. The pace of this destructive practice appears to be increasing at the same time as stronger storms are creating more flooding. Entire lots are cleared of trees prior to seeking building permits to make it easier for new construction. There is no protection in place for our private trees.

Building applications that are non-conforming must come before the Planning and Zoning Commission. These applications often include extensive removal of trees and GTC advocates for a more respectful approach to development to better protect our tree canopy and the ecosystem services it provides our community. Throughout these discussions GTC and others supply well documented information on concerns including the resulting increase in erosion and flooding, the creation of heat-islands and other unanticipated outcomes that would negatively affect the neighborhood.

Should a resident or business want a tree removed within the public right-of-way (ROW), they submit a request to the Town Tree Warden. If the tree is determined to be healthy, and the applicant still wants it removed, the Tree Warden posts the tree for removal and if anyone objects within 10 days a tree hearing is scheduled. GTC often requests hearings to enable a closer look at the issues at hand. The tree warden listens to testimonies from all parties, including concerned residents, and makes a ruling within 3 days. Any ruling may be appealed to the Superior Court in Stamford.

At the state level we often encounter our primary electricity provider, Eversource. Eversource speaks about hardening their infrastructure, yet their practices appear to focus solely on removal and “enhanced” trimming of our trees and not on equipment upgrades or undergrounding of wires in municipal areas. In the past their pruning protocol had been to clear all tree material within 8 feet of transmission lines, causing a “V” in town trees.

More recently, Eversource has increased their tree trimming requesting a clearance of 10 feet along with a “fall zone”. This policy is currently being tested in several towns. To date these increased tree trimming policies have not been shown to create a failsafe electrical system and the great damage they cause to the health of town trees is well understood. For this reason, the GTC advocates at state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) hearings to request that the benefits trees provide communities be considered when establishing utility company tree trimming guidelines. As town tree canopies are weakened by aggressive trimming the trees become more vulnerable to damage from strong storms. The GTC provides documented evidence and a voice of reason to PURA as they oversee our utility companies.

Additionally, we speak to the clear cutting by CT DOT along I-95 and the Metro North right-of-way that includes easements provided to Eversource. All three entities have removed sound buffers that are critical to adjacent neighborhoods, have decimated habitat for songbirds and pollinators, and left behind wide open areas for invasive plants to take over. Their management policy is to apply pesticides, in many cases directly adjacent to homes and schools with young children. This creates a vicious cycle which would not occur if a properly managed tree canopy had remained. Policies such as these has left GTC with a sense of responsibility to speak out and advocate at state agency hearings and directly to the Governor.

Currently in Connecticut there are very few regulations on private property trees. We continue to discuss how we might find a way to protect a portion of our private property trees, to maintain the critical water and soil systems we all depend upon. We assisted in the passage of a public tree ordinance and feel it is time to discuss some form of private tree protection. This can take one of many forms, permits to remove trees over a certain size or a percentage of coverage to remain. We should discuss canopy loss and canopy goals. It looks as if the time has come to broaden our understanding as a community and begin to take action. Please join us in discussion, advocacy or donation as we seek to preserve and protect our town tree canopy.

JoAnn Messina has been the Executive Director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy for over 15 years and is currently a member of the P&Z Greenscape Task Force. Prior to that she chaired the First Selectman’s Parking and Traffic Committee, was a member of the Selectman’s Nominations Advisory Committee and was President of the LWVG.

This article originally appeared in the Greenwich Sentinel on July 8, 2022.

New Study Finds Treehuggers Had It Right All Along

– Story by Adam Cervin, Greenwich Patch

According to new research just released from the U.S. Forest Service and the Davey Institute, urban forests across the country save thousands of lives every year. Trees not only save lives, but according to the study, they reduce hospital visits and the number of days taken off work, and help people nationwide breathe better. They do this simply by collecting pollutants on their leaves and branches and thus remove them from the air.
> Read the full story by Adam Cervin on Greenwich Patch.

Please Write to Save Our Street Trees!

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) needs to hear from you! Please write, email or come to one of the two hearings this Wednesday or Thursday to let PURA know that you do not agree with the two electrical utility companies (UI and CL&P) clearing all trees ground to sky 8 feet from either side of an electrical line. This drastic clearing along our roadways has not been proven to increase power reliability however it will diminish the environmental benefits we gain from our trees.

Please review the background information below and write to PURA today!


United Illuminating has submitted a plan to the Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) which calls for eventual removal of all trees and branches, except right tree/right place trees, within 8 feet on either side of its electric distribution wires from ground to sky (now known as the Utility Protection Zone or UPZ).

CL&P plans call for such removal under or near its distribution wires in much more of its territory than in the past. These plans apply to all towns and cities within UI or CL&P territory

To see what could happen to your street and roadside trees, look up at the electric distribution wires (the top wires) and measure 8 feet to the left and right, ground to sky. Any tall tree or tall growing tree within the UPZ is scheduled to be removed under the UI and CL&P plans, whether it is hazardous or healthy. If not removed, it may be severely pruned.

Two public hearings are scheduled:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

3 pm – Technical Meeting
6:30 pm – Public Information Session
Hearing Room 1, PURA
Ten Franklin Square
New Britain, CT

Thursday, March 6, 2014
6:30 pm – Technical Meeting and Public Information Session

Hamden Middle School Auditorium
2623 Dixwell Avenue
Hamden, CT

The technical meetings on March 5 with CL&P and March 6 with UI in PURA Docket No. 12-01-10 are open to the public. Their purpose is to gather and clarify information from the utilities.

Public Comments

The public will be asked to sign up to speak at the public information sessions. Remarks should be brief and not repetitive.

When you speak, you can respond to the utility presentation, and can add new comments and information relevant to your concerns about the use of rigid line clearance standards (especially ETT/ETR) by UI and CL&P. Specific personal examples of past or potential negative impact on your home, business, neighborhood or town, because of the use of rigid line clearances (previously used only by CL&P), would be helpful. If you don’t want to speak, it is still important to attend to show your concern.

You may send a written comment to PURA before or after the meetings. There will be a short period after the meetings in which PURA will welcome written public comments, and these may be particularly effective if based on what occurred at the meetings.

Written comments should include a reference to Docket No. 12-01-10,and be sent by e-mail to Pura.executivesecretary@ct.gov and Nicholas.neeley@ct.gov or via U.S. mail to PURA, 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051

PURA’s final decision in this docket regarding utility tree pruning and removal will apply to both utilities. PURA’s draft decision in this docket approves the use of ETT/ETR.

For updates and additional information visit The Garden Club of New Haven.

Not seeing the forest for the trees?

Photo: Bob Luckey

Read the full story by Gina Gould in The Greenwich Citizen

Over the last two months, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, there have been 241 trees chopped down in Greenwich by CL&P, with 17 more on the chopping block.

The cutting is a result of a collaborative agreement between CL&P, Metro-North and the DOT to eliminate any and all trees along the Mianus power line that might succumb to severe winds thus disrupting power or mass transit. It is the Mianus Line that powers Greenwich and the Metro-North railway from Stamford to Greenwich.

The removal of these trees seems like a logical, proactive approach to reduce the likelihood of future power loss… MORE > Read the full story by Gina Gould in The Greenwich Citizen.

Testimony of Executive Director JoAnn Messina for the GTC to PURA Opposing CL&P’s Enhanced Tree Trimming and Enhanced Tree Removal

I am a member of the Vegetation Management Task Force but speak as Executive Director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy. Over 500 strong, our non-profit group’s mission is to preserve and enhance the tree and forest resources to benefit the community, its health and its quality of life. We write in opposition to the plan of Enhanced Tree Trimming and Enhanced Tree Removal. You have received many letters from our concerned residents.

I participated in the March 5 hearing in New Britain. At the presentation CL&P stated that, “We are in the business to remove trees.” Aren’t they in the business of delivering electrical power? They also answered that “We do not plan to change our program because of tree refusals.” They added that they were going to go after individuals who refused to allow them to cut their trees, if the tree subsequently came down on a wire. When did they become so removed from the citizens they serve?

We know that trees have brought down power lines but the utilities’ data does not show that clearing trees 8’ on both sides of wires, ground to sky, will alleviate those “problem” trees or curtail power outages. In Greenwich, a CL&P town, we have had several outages in the past 18 months, none of which have been due to tree failure but rather to CL&P failure. We have also seen in recent storms that the trees that have felled power lines have come from a distance. How can PURA permit such drastic measures without the data to support them? How can PURA permit CL&P and UI to fail to take into account other community needs and desecrate our towns, which will decrease our health, real estate values and environment?

We agree that reducing the threat from hazardous trees will increase safety and power reliability. The town of Greenwich is entering the 4th year of a 4 year capital campaign to remove hazardous trees. We believe this will result in fewer outages due to trees. We believe CL&P should be removing hazardous trees near the wires and pruning trees in close proximity to wires. We do not believe clear cutting ground to sky will benefit our state. We believe, where appropriate, undergrounding of wires should be seriously considered.

We are so fortunate to have a natural resource that can clean carbon dioxide from our air, reduce flooding, provide constant filtration of air and water pollution, provide wind abatement, support a diverse wildlife and bring aesthetic beauty to our daily lives. We implore the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to refer to the prudent measures of the Vegetation Management Task Force and reject the current proposed plans of CL&P and UI.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

JoAnn Messina, Executive Director
Greenwich Tree Conservancy
50 Church Street
Greenwich, CT 06830

Download the testimony