GTC In The News

Greenwich advocate pushes to put safety and access ahead of trees when it comes to town projects

By: KEN BORSUK | June 28, 2021

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Traffic and pedestrians cross the newly renovated intersection of Greenwich Avenue and Elm Street in Greenwich, Conn. Monday, May 17, 2021. The town planned to remove a pin oak tree located at 235 Greenwich Avenue but that decision has caused months of debate and appeal with the town now looking at its tree policy and ADA compliance.

The decision that involved reconfiguring the intersection on The Avenue “moved the (parking) spot (away) from the best spot it could be in to make it easier for everyone with a disability,” Gunzburg told the Board of Selectmen.

For a town tree warden to prevent access by keeping a tree in place, Gunzburg said, it violated the ADA’s Title II. which applies to state and local governments.

“When we talk about ADA and trees in the sidewalk, those trees do not belong to the tree warden,” Gunzburg said. “He has no right. He has no standing, and he has no place to do this.”

Instead of involving the tree warden, Gunzburg said the town should have an official policy of calling for the Department of Public Works to come to a resolution with the town’s ADA coordinator when it comes to access.

At the meeting, Tree Warden Greg Kramer said there should be “consideration and collaboration” with town agencies and the public on a case-by-case basis for town projects.

“To suggest bulldozing trees without any consideration from the tree warden I think is inappropriate,” Kramer said.

Assistant Town Attorney Aamina Ahmad agreed.

“You can’t simply cut out the tree warden out of a process,” Ahmad told the board. “There has to be a collaborative process and coordination. But if it turns out a particular tree in question, if it is allowed to remain, will have such an impact on the project that we in any way, shape or form not be in compliance with the ADA, then I think that’s where we say as a municipality that the ADA comes first.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo said, “Let’s continue this conversation and see what we can come up with.”

Sunshine Avenue hearing

Gunzburg called the Sunshine Avenue tree hearing “one of the most ableist things I have ever been through.”

At the hearing, “person after person after person” from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy “talked about how more important trees are than the safety of people and how much more valuable trees are than the safety of people,” he said.

But on Friday, JoAnn Messina, executive director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, said that was a “strong mischaracterization” of the hearing. Two or three conservancy members were among the speakers, who were mostly from the neighborhood, she said.

“I don’t recall anyone saying trees are more important than safety,” Messina said. “I see a world with ADA compliance and all the health benefits of mature, healthy trees.”

Kramer said that he didn’t have any comment about Gunzburg’s claim.

Moving a parking space

The issue that sparked Gunzburg’s appeal began in February, when a plan to remove a tree at 235 Greenwich Ave. was appealed. As part of the intersection improvement project at Elm Street, the town planned to build an accessible parking space with a ramp in the curb that would provide easier access to the sidewalk.

The appeal led to a hearing, after which Kramer ruled that the tree could be removed but said the town must plant seven other trees nearby. But Kramer’s ruling was appealed to Stamford Superior Court by a group of residents and Greenwich Avenue business owners who were save the tree.

Ultimately, a resolution was reached to save the tree but move the parking space. But Gunzburg said that deal, which has still not been finalized because of his complaint, violated his civil rights and he appealed it to the town ADA coordinator, Demetria Nelson.

Nelson denied Gunzburg’s appeal, saying that the jurisdiction of the tree warden in matters related to the ADA’s Title II “will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

But Gunzburg had the right to take the issue to the Board of Selectmen, which he did last week, saying there should be a set town policy.

“Without a policy, government cannot run,” he said. “We can’t ad hoc every single moment and try to figure out who we’re going to involve in order to make things work to be in line with federal statutes.”

Veterans Blast Hamill Rink User Committee: “There Will Be Hell to Pay”

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | June 24, 2021

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At the June 23 Hamill Rink User Committee meeting, chair Bill Drake summarized five reasons not to build a new Hamill Rink in the existing location: Possible loss of 2 seasons of skating, Loss of $1.2 million (2 years) revenue from not having a rink for two seasons, expense of purchasing ice time elsewhere, $1m+ cost to build a temporary rink, and more challenging fundraising for the project.

Previously, at the May 5 meeting, in a discussion about adding a two lane access road into the park via Western Jr Hwy, Al Monelli said the project was definitely a two year project, not one.

Brent Brower from the Greenwich Skating Club said his organization was the largest purchaser of ice at Hamill Rink. They also purchase ice time from Chelsea Piers CT, Hommocks in Westchester, SONO in Norwalk, and both STR and Terry Connors in Stamford. He said the group also planned to purchase time at a facility in Brewster, NY.

“Even if we wanted to replace the ice, if Hamill were to close, we wouldn’t be able to. It is not available,” he said.

View of Strazza field with rink in background.
Hamill Rink.
A good turnout at Eugene Morlot Park’s memorial grove for Byram School alumni who lost their lives serving their country. May 2021 Photo: Alex Popp
In the memorial grove 13 markers by 13 trees are each dedicated to a service person who list his life for this country. May 27, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

Brower and Nancy Leamy, who runs the rink skating school, both said they’d support an effort to develop a “support group,” whether it be via email or Facebook.

“To get more people interested in the development of the rink, perhaps it might be good to invite some of these people in person,” Leamy suggested.

Mr. Drake suggested scheduling face-to-face meetings with the BNA and BVA to discuss the project in the week of July 12, though there were veterans on the Zoom meeting, and there was a representative from the BNA on the committee, Liz Eckert.

Ms Eckert, noted that though she happened to be an RTM member for District 4, she was on the committee to represent the Byram Neighborhood Association. She said while the rink committee was assembled to design a new rink, its mission had changed.

“Now it has morphed into designing an entire park, with several user groups, homeowners, and taxpayers affected,” she said.

“We need to have more representation from these user groups on this committee so they have a voice in deciding what’s going to happen with our park. This is not just a rink,” she added.

Mr. Drake disagreed. “I think we have a very broad representation. We have baseball fans, people from the Planning & Zoning committee, and we have you,” he said, though neither Nick Macri from P&Z, nor Mike Bocchino who has spoken in support of Strazza field users was able to attend the meeting.

The committee does not have representation from the Byram Veterans. Nor does it have anyone from the RTM districts in the area of the rink.

In addition to Ms Eckert, Mr. Drake, Mr. Macri, Mr. Bocchino, and Mr Brower of Greenwich Skating Club, the committee also includes Ric Loh of the Parks & rec board, and three town employees: Sue Snyder (Parks & Rec Superintendent of Recreation), Rink Manager Rich Ernye, and head of the skating school, Ms Leamy.

During public comments, Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy suggested looking at the project from a land use perspective.

She said it would be helpful if renderings showed exactly where and how many trees were to be removed depending on where a possible access road might be located.

Possible route of access road to rink via Western Jr Hwy
Possible route of access road to rink via Western Jr Hwy.

There was talk about the expense of running utilities from Western Junior Highway to the rink. Mr. Monelli said there would be five separate trenches for utilities.

“You can’t mix water and sewer. You can’t mix water and electric,” he said. “There will be five different excavations.”

He said it would cost about $2,000 per lineal foot for trenching for all five utilities (including piping, conduit and/or cast iron and labor) and that the shortest run was to option A or B, for about a 50 ft run for $110,000.

He said the difference in running utilities to A or B to putting the building on the parking lot was almost 500 ft for a total of $1.2 million.

The difference in approximate cost to run utilities to option A or B and C, D or E is $1.1 million.

Ms Alvarez noted that utility trenches are notorious for damaging tree roots.

“Trenches go in and two, three or four years later a tree dies,” she said. “I’d like to know when they’re put in those utility trenches, where they’ll go and how you can limit tree damage in the process.”

Alvarez said there has been talk in the RTM about the Housing Authority’s interest in developing affordable housing in the area of McKinney Terrace, which abuts the park to the north and might potentially share the access road. McKinney Terrace is housing for elderly and disabled and is run by the Housing Authority.

“Is that driveway going to provide access if it were to move forward putting in housing in the area?” she asked.

Mr. Drake said the questions deserved a “careful review” and said he proposed to respond in writing rather than “on the fly.”

Mr. Drake said he had looked at the Parks & Rec website which lists the town’s parks.

“There are 62 items that come up on the list. There is no Morlot Park listed.”

Mr. Drake said Eugene Morlot Park had no official designation in the Town of Greenwich, though he said the committee intended respect the memorial grove of trees in the northwest corner of the park.

“We’ll probably enhance it if we can with assistance, opinions and feedback from the vets and the entire community,” he said. “As part of this process, we should indeed, for the first time, we should formally recognize and establish a Morlot Park with these trees and flagpole.”

After the meeting, Byram Veterans said they were surprised at the claim that the park didn’t exist.

The Byram Veterans Association provided Town documents and clippings referring to Eugene Morlot Memorial Park dating back decades.

A clipping from Greenwich News from December 5, 1991 reported that a gift for $10,000 to $12,000 from Greenwich Junior Babe Ruth League to improve the hardball field at the former Byram School, “now the Eugene Morlot memorial Park” was approved in a unanimous vote by the Greenwich Board of Selectmen.

RTM notes, 1992, Last resolution is to authorize the Director of Parks & Rec to accept a gift of $12,000 for improvements to the ballfield at the “Eugene Morlot Memorial Park.”
News clipping 1989 says, that on Veterans Day “A ballfield that once belonged to the former Byram School was renamed Eugene Morlot Memorial Park in tribute to a man who was a friend to generations of veterans.”

During public comment, Don Sylvester from the Byram Veterans Association challenged Mr. Drake’s claim that the park did not officially exist.

He said it was his job as commander of the veterans group to preserve the park, but that he and fellow veterans had been excluded from the committee.

“For anyone to say that Eugene Morlot Park does not exist is a disservice to the veterans of this town,” he said to Mr. Drake, adding that it was “wrong” to chop up the park.

Mr. Sylvester said the entire park was dedicated as a memorial park, including the parking lot, skating rink, Strazza field and the memorial grove of trees.

“Until all the questions are answered, there’s going to be hell to pay before one shovel full of dirt comes off of that property….This is a disservice to veterans all over the US to do anything to that memorial park. It’s no different than Washington, DC. What do you think people would say if they were going to put a Walmart size building in the middle of the Mall where the reflecting pond is? It would be unheard of.”

Don Sylvester, Commander of the Byram Veterans Association and Officer with CT Veterans of Foreign Wars

“Parks are open space…What you’re doing here is dividing up this property, chopping it up,” Sylvester said, arguing that the existing location should be maintained. “Keep the open space as what it is.”

Mr. Sylvester said he did not want a Walmart size building placed in the middle of the park’s open space, and preferred a new one be built on the existing rink location.

“I don’t understand why everyone is so hell bent on putting this building in the middle of a park,” he continued, before going on to question the need for the access road, which will stretch the project to two years and add significant expense according to Mr. Monelli.

He noted that the representative from SLAM, the design firm hired by Parks & Rec, had said large pieces of equipment and sections of steel and concrete would have to be brought into the park and it would be a challenge to come in via Sherman Ave and Sue Merz Way.

“What happened when they did the original building? I think they had to bring large pieces of steel in for that one,” he said.

View of flagpole and in the wooded area in background, roughly in the area where an access road is proposed.

Also during public comment Ros Nicastro from Byram said she thought the new rink should be built on its existing location.

She complained the committee lacked RTM representation from District 3 and that a third of the D3 RTM members lived in the apartments across the street from the park, where a new access road is being planned and trees will be removed.

“Instead of a quiet bucolic park across the street, we’re going to have a Sears, Roebuck & Company size building and an access road across the street,” she said.

Nicastro said she agreed with Francia Alvarez from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy that when tree roots would be destroyed by trenching, and that she was concerned trees would die that currently protect people in apartments in her complex.

Ms Nicastro was joined by Molly Saleeby in agreeing that the committee did not have broad enough representation.

“This is not the Balkans where we need a delegate from Herzegovina,” Mr. Drake said.

David Wold, a member of the Byram Veterans Association, lamented that the two-way access road would “cut the park in two.”

He asked how many trees would be eliminated, where the ADA parking and existing playground would be relocated. Mr. Drake said answers were yet to be determined.

The committee members did not vote on a preferred option, but those in attendance agreed they leaned toward option A or B in which the rink would be positioned in the northeast corner of Eugene Morlot Park, just below a possible access road via Western Junior Highway.

They agreed that options C, D and E would have setback issues with respect to the memorial grove.

By the end of the meeting, only Bill Drake and Liz Eckert were in attendance to vote on the previous meeting’s minutes.

Tree Warden Rules on Trees Eversource Sought to Remove in Vicinity of Riverside Train Station

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | June 1, 2021

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The Town of Greenwich Tree Warden on Tuesday announced his decision on the fate of numerous trees proposed to be removed, including 21 in the area of the Riverside Train Station. Other trees are in the area of Cos Cob Park, Arch Street Y Summit and Sound beach Ave at the Old Greenwich Train Station for a total of 29 trees.

After the trees were posted, complaints were received, triggering a public hearing on May 26.

At the hearing, Kathy Ferrier, Transmission Vegetation Manager for Eversource said all 29 trees needing to be removed in order to achieve a 25 foot clearance from the transmission lines. She said any new vegetation could not exceed 15 ft. in height.

“Existing listed vegetation is currently in one of three conditions; being pruned cyclically away from wires, physiologically improbable to grow large enough to reach any high wires or is much too young at this stage of structural development to cause any service disruptions,” Kramer said on Tuesday.

The 21 trees posted at Riverside Train station:

  • Four (4) Arborviteas (Thuja occidentalis) Diameter Breast Height of 12, 12, 12, and 8 inches.
  • Seven (7) Norway Maples (Acer plantanoides) DBH of 24, 12, 12, 12, 12, 12, 15 inches
  • Three (3) Callery Pears (Pyrus calleryana) DBH of 24, 20, 20 inches
  • One (1) Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) DBH of 6 inches
  • One (1) Japanese Falsecypress (Cedar), (Chamaecyparis pisifera) DBH of 22 inches
  • Two (2) Flowering Cherry Plums (Prunus cerasifera) DBH of 4, 4 inches
  • Two (2) Black Cherries (Prunus serotine) DBH 12, 12 inches
  • One (1) Norway Spruce (Picea abies) DBH 20 inches

At Cos Cob Park 5 Oak trees were posted.

Arch St and Summit 1 Western Cedar was posted.

Two Japanese Zelkova were posted at the Old Greenwich Train station.

Any party aggrieved by the decision may, within 10 days, appeal the decision to superior court.

The Tree Warden is charged by state statute with the “care and control” of all town-owned trees.

Dr. Kramer ruled that none of the trees may be removed with the exception of the Western Cedar at Arch St and Summit Road and one Norway Maple at the Riverside Train Station.

Further, he said the trees cannot be removed until Eversource submits a landscape plan that includes replacement trees and species.

“The Tree Division doesn’t take this responsibility lightly,” Kramer said. “Each and every tree slated for removal is
inspected and decided on a case-by-case basis.”

“The Greenwich Tree Conservancy is very concerned that Eversource is stating that they need to remove trees ground to sky 25 feet from both sides of their wires,” said JoAnn Messina, director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy on Tuesday.

“This is not what PURA has agreed to and we need to refute. Many towns in Connecticut are being attacked by Eversource in similar ways,” Messina continued. “In Greenwich, we have been planting “right tree, right place” for decades and these trees requested for removal will not interfere with our power lines. We thank the Tree Warden for his decision to save our important town resources and treasures.”

Greenwich Tree Warden Rules on Fate of 21 Trees Posted for Removal for Cardinal Stadium Project

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | May 17, 2021

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Last Wednesday, Greenwich Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer held a public hearing on the fate of 34 trees posted for removal on the GHS campus as part of the Cardinal Stadium project.

Architect for the BOE Russ Davidson said that the number of trees had been reduced to 21, and it was necessary to cut them down for fire and emergency access, utilities, storm drainage requirements and ADA Access and parking.
Several people spoke in favor of ADA parking, which unfortunately pitted people involved in the stadium upgrade project against people from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, who don’t oppose ADA parking or accessibility to the stadium.

At the end of the day though, the discord stemmed from the fact trees are posted for removal at the end of a project, rather than the beginning.
On the day of the hearing, Russell Davidson, architect representing the Board of Education, stated for the record that 13 of the 34 trees would not need to be removed for the current phase of the construction project after all.

This brought the number of trees requested for removal down to 21 trees.
Kraemer said the number of trees, species, and Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) measured in inches requested for
removal are as follows:

  • (4) Japanese Falsecypress (Cedar) (Chamaecyparis pisifera) DBH of 20, 20, 18 inches and 13 inches.
  • (1) Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) DBH of 23 inches (Not shown in the landscape plan)
  • (2) London Plane (Plantanus x acerifolia) DBH of 20 and 18 inches.
  • (11) Norway Maples (Acer platanoides) DBH of 29,19,18, 18, 18, 11, 9, 8, 8, 6 and 3 inches.
  • (3) White Mulberry (Morus alba), DBH of 27, 20, and 13 inches.
  • (1) White Spruce (Picea glauca), DBH of 9 inches.
  • (4) Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum), DBH of 42, 13, 13 and 9 inches.
  • (3) Japanese Yews (Taxus cuspidate), DBH of 29, 24 and 20 inches.
  • (5) White Fir (Abies concolor), DBH of 28, 28, 27, 23 and 17 inches.

On Monday evening Dr. Kramer announced that of the 21 trees remaining posted for removal that an additional 7 would be spared.

“After careful consideration and having listened objectively to the facts and opinions presented by all parties, I have ruled in the following manner on the posted trees listed above and referenced again below: It is my decision and have concluded that the following trees shall remain;

(2) London Plane Trees (Plantanus x acerifolia) consisting of a Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) 20 and 18 inches located along Putman Avenue.

The trees residing in the proposed rain garden (infrastructural improvements) location; (3) Japanese Falsecypress (Cedar), (Chamaecyparis pisifera) DBH 20, 18, and 13 inches, (1) Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) DBH 18 inches, and (1) Japanese Maple, (Acer palmatum) DBH 23 inches.”

The 12 trees Kramer indicates for removal are:

Additional 12 trees have been approved for removal as part of the A.D.A. Access and Parking, the trees approved are as follows:

  • (2) Japanese Yews (Taxus cuspidate), DBH of 24 and 20 inches.
  • (1) Japanese Falsecypress (Cedar) (Chamaecyparis pisifera) DBH of 20 inches.
  • (1) White Mulberry (Morus alba), DBH of 20 inches.
  • (2) Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum), DBH of 42 and 13 inches.
  • (5) Norway Maples (Acer platanoides) DBH of 29, 18, 18, 18,11 inches
  • (1) White Fir (Abies concolor), DBH of 28 inches.

“However,” Kramer said. “The trees approved for removal will only be granted to the Board of Education with the agreement that upon replanting, tree numbers will be doubled the current design requirement of 34 trees; this would equal a total of 68 trees of a size no less than a 2-inch caliper with the species to be determined at the discretion of the Tree Warden. Additionally, the Tree Warden requests an overall comprehensive landscape improvement plan that enhances the areas after construction.”

Kramer shared two notes.

(1) London Plane Tree (Plantanus x acerifolia) DBH 20 inches on Putnam Avenue is on State property and was not posted or part of the tree hearing, however is shown for removal on the plan.

(2) Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) DBH 12 and 18 inches along Putnam Avenue are on State property and were not part of the tree hearing, however is shown as removals on the plan.

This is the final decision of the Tree Warden of the Town of Greenwich. Let it be known that Chapter 451, Section 23-59 of the Connecticut General Statutes states “the Tree Warden shall render his/her decision granting or denying the application, and the party aggrieved by such decision may, within ten days, appeal therefrom to the superior court or the judicial district within which such town or borough is located.”

This decision will be posted in the lobby of the offices of the Parks and Recreation Department located on the 2nd floor of the Town Hall, the lobby of Town Hall, the Town Clerk’s office, and the Town of Greenwich website ww.greenwichct.gov/AgendaCenter Parks & Recreation – Public Tree Hearing. It will also be sent to persons present at the Public Hearing and to those who appealed the posting of these trees for removal.

As your Tree Warden, by Connecticut statute, I am charged with the “care and control” of all Town-owned trees. The Tree Division doesn’t take this responsibility lightly. Each and every tree slated for removal is inspected and decided on a case-by-case basis.

Showdown over Trees Posted for Removal at GHS Highlights Flawed Process

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | May 13, 2021

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On Wednesday Greenwich Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer held a public hearing on the fate of 34 trees posted for removal on the GHS campus as part of the Cardinal Stadium project.

Architect for the BOE Russ Davidson said that the number of trees had been reduced to 21, and it was necessary to cut them down for fire and emergency access, utilities, storm drainage requirements and ADA Access and parking.

Color coded map of trees slated to be removed for Phase I of the project. In the lower right corner 13 trees have been identified to be retained, bringing the number from 34 down to 21 trees. The six purple circles are trees to be removed for ADA parking lot. The existing curb cut to the Post Road will be widened to meet state DOT requirements and red circles are to provide the fire and emergency and permissible traffic clearances. Green circles indicate trees to be removed for infrastructure improvements/utilities. (Phase II will continue from the parking lot to the back of the property, but it is not yet funded.)

Wes Stout, landscape architect for the BOE, said the trees being taken down had been naturally seeded “volunteers,” and would be replaced with valuable native species including Red Maple, Sugar Maple, Red Cedar, Sycamore, and Tupelo were “substantial” 3-1/2″ to 4″ caliper trees.

“These are average or larger than what you’d see in a new application,” he said of the replacement trees. “They’re basically on their way to maturity.”
About a dozen people testified on the importance of ADA accessibility and parking, and unfortunately the Tree Conservancy members were pitted against the stadium committee and members of the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities.

“We’re getting kind of ambushed at the end,” said BOE member Joe Kelly serves on the stadium committee. “You guys had plenty of time to contact us and give your opinion on things. Now you’re saying we didn’t discuss things with you guys. We were public on our discussions.”

JoAnn Messina, director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, said the issue of removing trees should have come up early in the process, not at the end.
She gave as an example a mature Oak Tree on Greenwich Ave at the corner of East Elm Street that was posted for removal for an ADA ramp after an MI was approved and work on the bumpout on Greenwich Ave was about to start. After a public hearing, Dr. Kramer ruled to take it down, but the decision was appealed to state Superior Court. Ultimately the tree was spared in a compromise.

Gunzburg said that outcome had not worked out well for the disabled community of Greenwich.

“You moved both parking spots to the opposite side of the street. It’s an ableist move, once again, where you’ve decided, okay, disabled people can both park on one side of the street. They don’t have to go to businesses on the other side. This is ridiculous. You do not have jurisdiction over trees that have to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

Nevertheless, Messina said, “It should not be a decision of, ‘Should we have ADA parking or trees?’ because obviously we should have ADA parking, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of our trees.”

She said the town tree warden should have been in on the conversations much earlier, and suggested that Mr. Kelly had confused the Conservancy with the Tree Warden, who is charged with the care and control of trees.
“The Conservancy is merely a 501(c)3 that assists the town in planting trees with a public private partnership,” she said. “We have planted with the town in excess of 5,000 trees in the last 15 years on public lands in Greenwich.”

“If Dr. Kramer has been involved in the last two years, I apologize, but it was my understanding that the discussion only happened a couple months ago,” Messina said.

“That is correct,” Dr. Kramer said.

Messina said the fact that the existing trees were “volunteers” was not a reason to remove them.

She said when the BOE did the Music Instructional Space and Auditorium “MISA” project at the high school, the then tree warden ruled that each of the 121 trees removed would have to be replaced by 1-1/2 trees, and if they could not be on the GHS campus, they would go on another public school campus in town.

“They were not,” she said.

Similarly, she said 200 trees were cut down at New Lebanon School.

“Ultimately there was money transferred in budgets because, again, they were not replanted.”

“The trees needed at the front of the high school – Dr. Kramer was very aware of that and the Tree Conservancy will be planting 30 trees at the front of the high school. We shouldn’t have to do that. The BOE has been taking down all of these trees – just on this campus, in excess of 820, and in total, 1,000 trees on public school property in town.”

Clare Kilgallen, who was a member of the New Lebanon building committee, said that as many trees as possible were planted on the New Lebanon campus.

Trees posted for removal on the GHS campus. Work on the bleachers is under way. April 29, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

Alan Gunzburg, chair of the First selectman’s Advsory Committee for People with Disabilities, said, “My civil rights are currently under attack through this. You have no right to block the ability for us to have a stadium that is fully accessible.”

“You don’t have a right to even talk about these trees. This hearing is a sham,” Gunzburg said. “There’s no reason for this hearing.”

Board of Education chair Peter Bernstein said, “If there is anything to be learned here, they should bring you in early on any town project so you can be involved from the outset. I see that as a go-forward fix, and if you talk to Katie DeLuca (Greenwich Town Planner), she’ll figure out how to make that happen, but I think that’s a really important thing.”

Bernstein said while there were some lovely wooded parts of the GHS campus, the areas with trees posted for removal were not among them.
He suggested the Tree Conservancy clear the scrub and beautify the area by the waterfall by the corner of Hillside Rd and Putnam Ave. “I think that could be a beautiful site,” he added.

Toward that end, Ashley Cole, a member of the Town of Greenwich Sustainability Committee and a liaison to the Greenscape Committee and resident of Hillside Rd opposite GHS, announced that she and Joe Kelly had been working on a private partnership to restore and landscape the waterfall area.

“We will be planting lots of trees there,” she said. “We think this is one of the signature beauty spots in Greenwich and on the Post Road.”

Ms Cole proposed that for every tree removed, two trees replace it.

“And we also plant as large a tree as we possibly can and we also load up the GHS campus with trees and plants, and return the landscape back to GHS for the students, the town and the neighbors, and make it gorgeous.”

Hillside neighbor Elizabeth Dempsey said she represented both causes. She decried safety and access problems as well of the “terrible loss of trees on campus.”

“The school looks barren and bleak, and someone referred to its style as ‘modern day penitentiary,’ for lack of replacing trees,” she said. “We can work together to solve these problems, but we must address safety and access first.”

After public comments, Dr. Kramer said he would issue his decision in three business days. Anyone who objects to the decision has the option of appealing the decision at the State level.

DUNSON: CT DOT Must Reduce Noise Pollution with I-95 Improvement Project

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | April 6, 2021

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Submitted by Cheryl Dunson, President, Greenwich Tree Conservancy

First Selectman Camillo has formed a committee of residents and officials, including Reps. Meskers and Arora and a representative from the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, that are demanding that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) take positive steps to reduce noise pollution as part of their upcoming $200+million I95 improvement project.

In addition to quiet paving, quiet joints, and noise barriers, trees and vegetation are another highly effective strategy to reduce noise pollution.

 Over the past few years, CTDOT has clear cut acres of trees in Greenwich and noise levels have increased dramatically in town as a result. CTDOT treat trees like obstacles to be removed rather than assets to be maintained – assets which provide noise abatement as well as reduce flooding, sequester carbon dioxide, reduce cross winds (particularly important for vans and trucks), and moderate heat among many important benefits that these wooded roadside corridors provide. 

For this project which extends from Exit 2 through Ext 6, CTDOT fails to provide a plan identifying the number, size or location of trees to be removed although it has provided much other data on accidents, vehicles per day, and the like.  

Connecticut is actively moving forward with plans and initiatives to address climate change while CTDOT is undermining these goals by wholesale tree removals in Fairfield County including Greenwich, Stamford and Westport and across the state.  It is sadly ironic that at a time when there is widespread acknowledgement of the many benefits that trees provide, that CTDOT is allowed to remove these valuable woodland assets with impunity. We urge the Governor to require CTDOT to document all trees that are anticipated to be removed; provide a site plan of tree removals to local officials for review and consensus; work with local officials to develop a re-vegetation plan as part of the design process and provide mitigation funds for re-planting species in removal areas.  

If you would like to add your voice to this effort you can email the CTDOT Commissioner Giulietti at Joseph.Giulietti@ct.gov and copy our First Selectman Camillo at fred.camillo@greenwichct.org and our state delegation who can be contacted via cga.ct.gov.

Cheryl Dunson, President, Greenwich Tree Conservancy

Tree Hearing: Residents Urge Compromise to Spare Mature Oak Tree on Greenwich Ave

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | February 25, 2021

During a public hearing on the fate of a mature Oak Tree on Greenwich Avenue in front of TD Bank, a couple dozen residents spoke in favor of finding a compromise or workaround that would both save the tree and address the need for an up-to-code handicapped parking spot.

The tree is due to be removed as part of the intersection improvements planned to start shortly, with a price tag of about $300,000.

Mature trees along the west side of Greenwich Avenue.

The Board of Selectman and the Planning & Zoning commission have already granted approval for the Municipal Improvement for the project.

While the residents objected to cutting down the tree, they mostly praised the intersection improvement project and acknowledged the imperative to provide ADA compliant parking.

Senior Civil Engineer for Greenwich, Jason Kaufman, said the project would enhance the intersection with over 1800 sq ft of new green space.

However, he said due to the grades of Greenwich Ave, the location of the tree was the most viable location for a handicapped parking spot and an ADA accessible ramp.

He said the tree trunk impeded sight lines for drivers coming across Greenwich Ave from East to West Elm Street. 

Residents disputed the issue about sight lines, and GPD Captain Jim Bonney said that while in the last three years there had been 129 accidents on Greenwich Ave – most of which were backing incidents – only one accident had taken place at the intersection of Greenwich Ave and Elm Street, and it was minor.

“If you’re interested, the most dangerous intersection in town is Arch Street at Railroad Ave,” he continued adding that there were 41 accidents at the intersection of Greenwich Ave and Railroad, making it the sixth ranked for past last three years.

Kaufman also said the crown of the Oak tree was “not looking comparatively healthy to the rest of the trees.”

He explained that while there was an existing handicapped spot in front of TD Bank, drivers who parked there were forced into the street. 

“It doesn’t meet code the way it is today,” he said. “When we do projects, we are required to make them meet code.”

Peter Malkin of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy asked about moving the handicapped space slightly to the north, but Mr. Kaufman said ADA codes were very stringent, and required a minimal slope.

“A half an inch to an inch makes a big difference,” he said. “Yes, there would be additional cost for additional sidewalk, curbing and pavement.

Lucy Krasnor agreed with Mr. Malkin, saying the tree was particularly strong and beautiful. “I register a real urge to not cut down this tree,” she said. “I think every project in town lately – all anyone thinks about is removing trees and I’m very upset about that.”

Tori Sandifer also objected to the removal of the tree. She said that while it might cost more to relocate the handicapped spot, there were costs to removing the tree.

Mr. Kaufman said it would cost more to move the handicapped spot than to cut down the tree and plant a new one south of the intersection. 

John Conte who is a landscape architect and CT licensed arborist, member of the Greenscape Committee of P&Z and vice chair of ARC, and board member of Green & Clean, vice chair of Greenwich Audubon spoke passionately.

While he complimented the intersection improvements overall, he said he hoped the town might come up with a workaround.

“I ask that we really change the mindset, and paradigm, of designing and drawing, and if a tree just happens to be in the way that tree just gets a red X on it,” he said. “There are so few left.”

He added that one could the case that every tree on Greenwich Ave was in a state of decline. 

“They’re all in such a difficult environment, with such a limited root area,” he said. “If we were to tag each one and say it’s in decline and should come down, we’d be in a sorry state.” 

“We need to be placing a much higher level of importance on every tree,” Conte continued. “That handicapped ramp is super important, but it does not look like it’s an insurmountable problem to reposition it.”

Francia Alvarez of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, said that according to a UConn study, between 1985 and 2015, Greenwich had lost 868 acres of forest. Forests now represent only 37.1% of the land mass, which falls below state guidelines.

Alvarez asked tree warden Dr. Greg Kramer about the condition of the tree.

Dr. Kramer said the tree was in decline, but was not in imminent danger.

Alvarez asked if the tree had been fertilized. 

Kramer said the town had pruned all the trees on the Avenue recently and this tree’s canopy was thinning. He said the trees on the Avenue had not been fertilized. He said this tree “could use an influx of fertilization.” 

Kramer said there was no plan to fertilize any of the trees on the Avenue.

Mark Greenwald, a landscape designer, who is part of both Green & Clean and the Tree Conservancy, and a former city planner with New York city, said the tree seemed in good health and could benefit from some fertilization and pruning. 

“This particular tree ends a line of trees down Greenwich Avenue, which are important,” he said. “To lose any one of them is unfortunate.”

Matt Popp, also a landscape architect, agreed with Conte and Greenwald. “This is a terrific tree,” he said, adding that its presence is a de facto traffic calming measure. 

Stephanie Cowie, of the First Selectman’s Committee for People with Disabilities, who uses a wheelchair, described the challenges of getting in and out of a van. She said most handicapped spaces were neither accessible nor compliant, and that ramps coming out of handicapped vans are always on the right side. She said therefore the handicapped space could not simply be flipped to across the street. 

Ms Cowie also said she was looking forward to not having to roll her wheelchair into oncoming Greenwich Ave traffic, but rather to access the sidewalk and crosswalk from a spot that is up to code.

Mary Hull, longtime director of Greenwich Green & Clean, said she had been greening up the Ave for 35 years, and that she’d hope to see a compromise between DPW and Parks & Trees. 

“I know when the leaves come out it will not be perfect, but according to the tree warden, it does not present a hazard,” Hull said, adding that the tree had a number of years of life remaining.

JoAnn Messina, who is director of the Tree Conservancy, said there was a false choice between ADA compliance and saving a tree, and it was not the first time.

There was a neighborhood outcry over the proposed removal of a historic White Oak tree on Sunshine Ave that was slated to be cut down last spring. Dozens of neighbors joined a Zoom call with the Tree Warden and ultimately the tree warden relented and DPW moved the sidewalk around the tree.

Messina shared that had been the caregiver for someone wheelchair bound for several years. “I firsthand understand the need for ADA compliance. I also understand the health benefits of trees.”

“It’s a difficult situation when the tree hearing happens at the end of a project,” she said, adding that she sympathized with Mr. Kaufman for having done so much work and then having to deal with the tree situation at the end of the process. 

“That’s something that should be rectified,” Messina said.

Tree Warden Dr. Kramer said there were initially 41 people on the Zoom call, and 30 of them remained on the call after about an hour. He said most of the 16 letters he had received about the tree were in favor of retaining it.

Kaufman said there were opportunities to plant new trees in the beds that will be created on the southern side of the intersection – either in front of Betteridge Jewelry or Bank of America.

Maggie Bridge from Sam Bridge Nursery & Greenhouses suggested it was important to keep as many mature trees in town as possible. 

She said while ADA compliance was important, she hoped there was a way to create a workaround to save the tree. 

In fact, several people participated in a conversation about finding a way to accommodate an up-to-code handicapped parking space while sparing the tree.

Ms Bridge talked about the value of mature trees in combating climate change and global warming. Ms Bridge said it would take decades for new trees to reach substantial size. 

Sebastian Dostmann, who is part of the Greenwich Community Projects Fund, asked if moving the handicapped spot to the north was a “budget issue.”

Mr. Kaufman said the DPW was provided a budget by the town. 

“We’re expected to deliver the project within budget,” he said. “At this point we’re within the budget.”

Leslie Petrick and Peter Malkin both suggested that private donations might make up for the cost of a workaround to spare the tree. 

Malkin said he wondered if it was accurate that the tree was a sight line issue. 

“Please remove the budget as the issue,” Malkin said.

Alyssa Keleshian, who is part of the Reimagine Greenwich effort and a property owner at 225 Greenwich Avenue, said the tree provided cool canopy for strollers who walk the Avenue.

“These trees, like the other ones on the Avenue, have a strong visual aspect to our community. They create a warm, welcoming aesthetic – much better than a backdrop of some looking at some of our more mature buildings.”

“If we remove this tree, what’s going to stop us from removing other trees?” she asked.

Ms Keleshian challenged Mr. Kaufman as to whether he had done outreach to property owners and merchants on Greenwich Ave. She said she had spoken to several of them and they told her they had not been consulted, and had been taken off guard and were opposed to the removal of the tree. 

Mr. Kaufman said there had been several meetings with landlords and tenants at all four corners of the intersection over several months.

Row of mature trees looking north on Greenwich Avenue.

Mr. Kaufman said moving the handicapped spot would require a complete redesign of the intersection.

He explained that incorporating ADA grades into a design on Greenwich Avenue was ‘extremely challenging.’

“While it may look and appear ‘easy,’ it never is,” Kaufman said.

Bill Lewis, who lives on East Elm Street said he opposed the removal of the tree.

“And if that scuttles the plan to do the bump outs, that’s all the better in my view because I really feel they are part and parcel of a plan that makes the intersection less safe because it’s connected with removing police from directing traffic there,” he said. “And if part of the argument is, ‘We’re making it greener,’and you’re taking out a beautiful tree,’they don’t even have that argument in favor of this plan.”

Lisa Vitiello, the owner of the building at 231 Greenwich Avenue, said she understood the importance of ADA, but she hoped for a workaround.

Ms Vitiello said she operated DaVinci’s restaurant for many years on the Ave. She said she had not been notified about the tree removal. 

“I only found out very recently about the potential removal of this beautiful tree,” she said, adding that she had lived in Greenwich since 1967. 

She described how customers of DaVinci’s used to gaze out at the beautiful tree. “I think that’s a perfect frame for that corner.”

The tree warden said he had three business days to make his determination and that anyone objecting to the decision has the ability to take the issue to the CT Supreme Court.

Stay tuned.

Greenwich to Coordinate Voices, Create “Ambitious Wish List” in Response to DOT I-95 Project

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | February 13, 2021

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Greenwich ought to coordinate the voices of interested parties for vegetation management along I-95 and come up with an ambitious wish list of items including sound barriers and guard rails in connection with the upcoming Dept of Transportation project on I-95 between Exits 2 and 6.

That was the resounding message of Wednesday’s P&Z Greenscape committee discussion attended by DPW deputy commissioner Jim Michel, State Rep Steve Meskers, and JoAnn Messina, who is the director of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy.

Messina said her organization had worked with the town to plant 4,500 trees on public land in Greenwich over the past 14 years, created a Town arboretum and worked on vegetation management with PURA, which has regulatory authority over utilities, including Eversource.

But, she noted, the Dept of Transportation does not have a regulatory authority.

Messina said it was time to propose legislation and that Senator Alex Kasser and State Rep Steve Meskers had offered offered to sponsor a bill.

Mr. Meskers said before a bill could be drafted, a public hearing should be held.

Messina said it was difficult to reconcile the knowledge that trees are a weapon against climate change with the Dept of Transportation seeking to clear cut trees “…without talking about it, without mapping them, without knowing what they are, and then, more importantly, having no interest in replanting.”

The focus of the Greenscape committee has been to landscape and beautify the six-mile Route 1 corridor from Port Chester to Stamford, with projects including a hundreds of spring flowering bulbs and a Chestnut Allée in the large island at the foot of Stanwich Rd (across from Pizza Post).

They agreed it might be wise to give suggestions to the state Dept of Transportation for a similar vision for I-95 from exit 2-6.

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I-95 northbound near exit 5 after tree removal by the DOT in 2019.

Mr. Michel from DPW said he would draft a joint letter that would come from First Selectman Fred Camillo and be co-signed by departments including DPW, Parks & Trees, and Conservation asking that a variety of items be included in the I95 project.

He said the DOT project managers reported receiving over 135 emails since the Jan 21 public hearing, and that the meeting had the highest attendance of any public meeting since the DOT moved their meetings to Zoom.

Mr. Michel said the DOT had no plans to do sound studies for sound barriers.

“In order to get a study done, typically they need a full lane addition,” he said, adding that was why sound barriers were erected in Darien where an acceleration/deceleration lane was added.

He suggeted Greenwich’s elected officials – State Rep Steve Meskers, State Senator Alex Kasser, State Rep Kim Fiorello and State Rep Harry Arora – work together to try to at least get a sound study done so they might later seek funding for sound barriers.

“The whole idea that we have to gather together to ask our state not to clear cut large swaths of trees along residential neighborhoods is just astounding to me.”

John Conte, a landscape architect and licensed arborist, Greenscape Committee member

Mr. Michel said the bulk of the tree removal had to do with accessing catch basins and pipes for maintenance.

He also suggested the Greenscape committee come up with a wish list in the next few weeks, followed by a more detailed plan in the next few months, and offered to incorporate their “ask” in the joint letter with Mr. Camillo.

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Large swath of trees removed by DOT close to exit 5. Feb 1, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

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Large swath of trees removed by DOT close to exit 5. Feb 1, 2019 Photo: Leslie Yager

State Rep Steve Meskers said Greenwich should push back on the issues of vegetation and sound barriers.

“We should think more ambitiously and aggressively than we think what their precepts are,” Meskers said. “We need to knock and ask a little harder….They’re beginning to feel the heat and they are becoming more attentive.”

Meskers said he had spoken to the Dept of Transportation liaison Pam Sucato. “I said, look, ‘There has been an assault visually on I-95, and now you’re coming in for your last go round for the next 30 to 40 years.’ I said, ‘You’re going to get pushback from every degradation of the last 4-5 years that have stripped trees and vegetation in a very high residential neighborhood. This is not Bridgeport; you’re not surrounded by factories on 95 here.”

Meskers he anticipated the Dept of Transportation might cite a lack of funding for vegetation or sound barriers, and that it might be necessary to appeal to the DOT commissioner, Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congressman Jim Himes, or even DEEP.

“We just have to look and figure out where the resources are,” he said. “Their mandate is to make straight the roads, and we’re in the way.”

Guard Rails

Mary Hull, the director of Green & Clean, suggested pushing for attractive wood backed guard rails like the ones on the Merritt Parkway. She said they were not much more difficult to maintain than the unattractive metal ones.

Susan Foster said the town “cannot cave” on getting aesthetically pleasing, attractive guard rails, especially at the exit loop at Exit 5 by Riverside Commons.

“We have to fight to get what’s on the Merritt at least in that section,” she said. “We can’t just accept the cheapest.”

Wildflowers VS Shrubs and Small Trees

Jim Michel said the state had expressed willingness to plant wildflowers along the highway in the area of Exit 3-4 where the sewer line runs, and where trees were clear cut a few years ago.

“They are willing to do some wildflower seed mix there. That’s about the extent of it,” Mr. Michel said. “We don’t necessarily disagree because there is a significant sanitary sewer infrastructure that carries sanitary sewer for 3/4 of the town in that area. In addition, they need access to their railroad.”

Mary Hull pointed out that flowers are only visible part of the year, and that shrubs and small trees would be better.

“It is much more complicated to manage wildflowers than it would be if we used good sized bushes and wood chips that won’t hurt them,” she said.

“If we can use practical trees – if they’ll allow us to have things that are low growing or large shrubs, we might add a lot of green and a lot less maintenance,” Hull added.

Ms Foster agreed. She said the clear cutting would result in a major weed problem, and wildflowers were not the right treatment.

Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer said there was some precedent for the Dept of Transportation planting trees. He noted the they had planted trees along I-95 (across from the office building at 1 Sound Shore Drive close to Indian Field Rd.

Dr. Kramer also said the town was working on a tree maintenance program that might serve as a model for the State.

“This committee could celebrate that, and make it known as part of an ongoing effort, instead of complaining about what we lost – what we are preserving,” said John Conte, of the Greenscape committee.

Francia Alvarez of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said the Greenscape committee’s focus on Greenwich as a gateway was a visionary approach that should serve as a model for I-95.

“I remember as a kid coming over that first bridge into Connecticut from New York, everything would be better. It would be greener. That’s what we want to continue,” Alvarez said. “We want people to look around and say, ‘Connecticut is great. Let’s move here.’”

Low Noise Pavement

“The big issue with the noise is really, it’s where the rubber meets the road. In Europe they use low noise pavement,” Alvarez said. “We talk about mitigating noise, but we can be focusing about stopping the noise before it starts.”

“I cannot imagine that there has been any discussion with Dept of Transportation on that,” Mr. Michel replied. “I can ask the question, but I can envision it’s going to be your basic asphalt overlay.”

Richard Hein of the Greenscape committee suggested the committee aim for low hanging fruit, and “going after things that are simple and achievable.”

Mr. Conte disagreed.

“I think it’s good to put things out there that are aspirational like low noise asphalt,” Conte said. “It’s kind of a sad perspective for Jim to believe that the state has never considered or thought about that. Why not? It’s not like we’re a third world country that doesn’t have access to that.”

Peter Malkin of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy said the 2018 storm drainage project created a “horrible industrial look” between Exits 3 and 4 between I95 and the train tracks, and asked the DPW to work with the Dept of Transportation to negotiate some planting.

Malkin said the GTC would like to work with DPW and DOT on plantings that would not interferes with the storm drain or railroad.

“It would be something that would restore a sense of being in Greenwich rather than being in the Bronx,” Malkin said.

He also suggested that Mr. Michel and DPW work with the tree warden, Dr. Kramer, in requesting the Dept of Transportation do plantings around Exit 3, considering there is significant new lane work planned there.

Mr. Michel said the lane work at exit 3 there was “fairly minor.”

Ms Foster said the project provided a unique opportunity to show the country how to do repairs correctly while being environmentally sensitive.

She said she had spoken extensively with Pam Sucato of the Dept of Transportation about being proactive instead of reactive.

“My understanding of what generated all these trees come down along I-95 was all the lawsuits that happened. My point to her was isn’t it sad that the state didn’t have the vision to put money into the maintenance and selection of trees, and instead neglected for decades the care along our highways to the point we had deaths occurring and major lawsuits.”

Foster said it would be useful to know how many millions of dollars had been paid as the result of lawsuits.

“And now the solution is to get rid of the potential liability?” she asked, adding that the Dept of Transportation’s stance was that they were doing “a good natural thing” by getting rid of “invasive trees.”

The project is at the 30% design phase, so there is time for more input. Messina and Meskers urged residents to continue to reach out to the Dept of Transportation with comments.

The project is open for public comment through Monday, February 22, 2021. Residents can email the CTDOT or call at (860) 944-1111. Reference Project No. 56-316 in your voicemail.

Greenwich Tree Conservancy Responds to Metro North Clear-Cutting in Riverside

By: GREENWICHFREEPRESS | December 21, 2020

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Submitted by Cheryl Dunson, Greenwich Tree Conservancy President

The Greenwich Tree Conservancy shares the alarm of residents protesting the recent clear-cutting of trees along the railroad tracks bordering the Riverside School and reflected in the residents’ Change.org petition available online.

This is a continuation of clear-cutting that occurred along exits 3-4 and now to 5-6. This clear-cutting policy, reportedly to protect the catenary poles and tracks from falling trees, has devastating effects on communities. These “safety” policies have created other issues by eliminating the existing benefits of these wooded corridors for possible risk.

The wooded Right of Way (ROW) area adjacent to the tracks provides many benefits including screening from the trains, noise reduction, air quality remediation, stormwater runoff protection, wildlife habitat, and a safety barrier. After the clear-cutting of ROWs in the Connecticut towns of Falls Village and Cornwall, a pesticide application program was used to maintain “infrastructure safety”. Chemical pesticide extends the negative impacts to the Town and the environment and, for coastal communities in particular, to Long Island Sound.

The Greenwich Tree Conservancy is proud of our partnership with the Town to preserve and enhance Greenwich’s tree canopy. Since our founding in 2007, we have planted thousands of trees throughout town, including on all our public school grounds. While we deeply regret the reason for needing to plant more trees at Riverside School, we are happy to work in partnership with the Town to help mitigate on the school property. However, the municipality should not be the only ones shouldering the burden created by ConDOT – they too should be required to mitigate along the right of way.

Greenwich depends upon the expertise of our Town Tree Warden Dr. Greg Kramer, supported by our First Selectman Camillo, to help protect the town from wanton clear-cutting. While our local officials are using their influence to call for judicious tree removal, the GTC will work with the Town to remediate as much as possible. A large portion of the rail lines in Connecticut are owned by the State, and should be managed appropriately. The State and UCONN have worked together to develop the Stormwise program, which is designed “to tackle the challenge of maintaining the aesthetic appeal of forested Connecticut byways while reducing the potential of tree-cause damage to our infrastructure during severe storms.” This valuable work could be applied to our railroad corridor.

It is sadly ironic that at a time when there is widespread acknowledgement of the importance of trees in combating the many ill effects of climate change, that ConDOT/Metro North are allowed to remove these valuable woodland assets with impunity. The Greenwich Tree Conservancy urges Governor Lamont to send a clear message that trees and transportation can co-exist and direct ConDOT, Metro-North and DEEP to adopt Stormwise or similar refined approach for managing vegetation in our transportation and utility corridors. Put simply, indiscriminate clear-cutting is deforestation, not vegetation management and should not be labeled nor accepted as such! Successful vegetation management mitigates risk, while ensuring that our urban and edge forests are conserved, restored and made more resilient.

Cheryl Dunson
President

Now we’re shaming:’ Rallyprotests Metro-North’s tree-cutting in Riverside

By: Ken Borsuk | Column | Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 8:10 p.m.
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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.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com