DARIEN – After almost a year of mediation, the town will allow Eversource to remove a large number of local trees and has negotiated an extended cultivation maintenance schedule with the company – but several neighbors say the agreement does not go far enough.
Last year, the energy company requested the removal of 100 trees – which served as a buffer between residential Littlebrook Road and rail lines – to protect nearby high-voltage transmission lines. Tree Warden Michael Cotta allowed Eversource to remove 21 afflicted trees in the area, but denied further removal. Eversource cut down seven additional trees and requested mediation with town counsel.
At the last Board of Selectmen meeting, board members unanimously approved the settlement agreement that will allow Eversource to remove 62 trees instead of the remaining 72. In return, Eversource is required to place 400 plants along the property line, including 140 limber pine, arborvitae and/or juniper trees.
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First Selectman Monica McNally told attendees that the town fought hard to keep the 10 remaining trees on the property, and said Eversource would be responsible for maintaining and watering the new plants for 18 months, compared to the usual 12-month commitment.
“An 18-month maintenance schedule is unprecedented, and a watering management schedule is unprecedented from Eversouce,” McNally said. “So, those are two things that we fought very hard for.”
McNally said Eversource was required to inspect the vegetation a year after planting and replace any damaged plants. Six months later, she said, they would return and do the same.
The 62 trees were set for removal no sooner than March 1, 2023, McNally said, and the new plants would be in the ground no later than June 1, unless there was a weather event.
Mitch Gross, a spokesperson for Eversource, told CT Examiner that planting new vegetation was determined on a case-by-base basis, but the company had made similar agreements with other municipalities.
“A good example would be the Greenwich train station where we also worked out a planting agreement with the town after removing trees near our transmission lines there.”
While Eversource had created cultivation plans with other towns, Gross said the 18-month maintenance schedule in Darien was “not typical.”
Gross said the company did not have fixed prices for removal, planting or maintenance and explained that they purchase the plants at wholesale market prices.
At the meeting, McNally thanked Littlebrook Road residents – who largely opposed tree removal due to quality of life and biodiversity concerns – for their patience.
“I want to stress that I really appreciate the patience of the residents throughout this. This has been a very long process, and I appreciate the diligence and the perseverance from the town’s side,” McNally said.
Marie Morgan, who lives on Littlebrook Road, told CT Examiner that many of her neighbors were happy with the settlement, but said she was disappointed by the lack of environmental preservation.
“For me, it’s not a visual issue – I live further down on Littlebrook Road. But I’m just really passionate about our area and that we border Selleck’s Woods,” Morgan said. “And I’m just so disappointed to see the amount of cutting that is going on in such a critical wetland and a critical foliage and animal habitat of Darien.”
Morgan said she wished others in town cared more about the removal.
“I wish people had the same reaction and disappointment because once the trees are gone, they’re gone. There’s nothing you can do,” Morgan said. “And these are 100-year-old, really established trees.”
Resident Natalie Tallis told CT Examiner that she was left with numerous questions after the Board meeting, especially without access to the written agreement and plan drawings. She said she was unsure of where the 400 plants would be placed and if they’d survive.
During the meeting, McNally said 60 arborvitae would be placed along the railroad tracks to provide screening. But Tallis said that due to wildlife concerns, she’d like to know the specific kind of arborvitae.
“A lot of this isn’t meaningful until you see where the invasives are and where they’re putting the trees,” Tallis said. “And the fact that they’re putting in arborvitae – there are only three kinds of arborvitae that deer don’t go near.”
Tallis said McNally seemed very proud of the fact that Eversource would be responsible for maintenance and watering, but said cost was only one factor of many to be considered.
“To me, that’s a town budget issue,” Tallis said. “Not a town environmental or quality of life or property value issue.”