Officials answer questions about West Hartford tree removal - WFSB 3 Connecticut

Officials answer questions about West Hartford tree removal

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Crews speak with neighbors about a controversial tree removal project in West Hartford. (WFSB photo) Crews speak with neighbors about a controversial tree removal project in West Hartford. (WFSB photo)

At a West Hartford Town Council meeting on Tuesday night, neighbors told officials how unhappy they are about how they found out about a tree removal project.

Their arguments forced the state to suspend work along Trout Brook Drive, which was meant to address flooding issues.

"What we have not are tree stumps, devastated land. The smell; it's wet drying debris," said resident Paul Palmer. "The destruction that they did completely changed the character of the neighborhood."

Less than a week ago, the area was home to dozens of trees, some of which had been there for upwards of 60 years, neighbors said.

"To be honest now, I don't want to even walk out of my house,” said Dana Perlmutter of West Hartford. “It's so depressing and sad to look over there. It makes me so infuriated."

DEEP said the state-owned property was not properly maintained over the years. It said there were growing concerns over flooding and long-term livability.

That’s what prompted the project, which involved dredging.

"Around 1999 or 2000 was when the last major work was done. There has not been any major work or dredging done since that time," said DEEP Director of Communications Dennis Schain.

Despite the flooding fix, residents told Eyewitness News that the tree removal upset them.

"They came in the second day and took down all the trees. It was very disheartening," said Art Bourgault of West Hartford.

Others said they had no knowledge of the project.

"Total decimation of trees,” said John Sherman, also of West Hartford. “[They] knocked down 30 to 40 foot oak trees that have been there for 50 years.”

On Tuesday, The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection responded to concerns.

“Failure to complete this maintenance work, would impose severe risks and financial burdens to those who live on or near the South Branch of the Park River,” said DEEP Commissioner Robert Klee. “The risk of flooding would increase significantly – this was an area that was typically flooded during storms before the flood control project was constructed. In addition, if work is not completed and the federal government decertifies the system, many property owners would be required to purchased floor insurance, which could cost the typical homeowner $2,000 a year or more.”

Residents said they understood that, but believe that had to have been another way. They argue that the state did not communicate the details of the project with those who would be most impacted.

"If I wanted to do something in my backyard, because it being a wetlands area, I would have to go through all kinds of hoops in terms of being about to do that project," said resident Sharon Thompson. 

Officials from DEEP said about 800 homes should have received a letter detailing the plan, however residents said only a few of them had received a letter.

At the meeting on Tuesday evening, officials acknowledged that they could have done a better job at informing neighbors about what was happening.

DEEP said a stop work order was issued, but it only lasts two weeks. It said during that time, a contractor would only engage in non-impactful activities. An apology was also issued by the DEEP commissioner.

Neighbors told Eyewitness News that there were crews who were taking down the trees who said they were getting paid "by the tree," however DEEP officials said they don't believe that is the case.

Eyewitness News was told more trees will be torn down, but more meetings will be held.

The department said it scheduled a public information session on the project for Nov. 4 at 6:30 pm. at the town council chambers in West Hartford Town Hall. Residents are invited to attend, hear a presentation on the project, and to talk with DEEP staff about it.

The project also expands into Hartford, at the South Branch Park River, and in Newington, at Mill Brook, involving a total of more than nine miles.

A similar session has been set for Nov. 5 at Newington's town council chambers. Work on the South Branch Park River flood control system is slated to start soon. That meeting will start at 6:30 p.m.

For an update on the project, click here.

For more details on the South Branch Park River Flood Control Maintenance Project, click here.

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