Friday, July 19, 2013

Tree talk gets testy at times

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday July 17, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

WALLINGFORD — A sometimes contentious discussion was held at Tuesday evening’s Town Council meeting on the proposed removal of 28 trees along Quinnipiac Street between Washington Street and Route 5.

The discussion was prompted by Councilor Nick Economopoulos, who said he is concerned that an arborist wasn’t consulted about work being planned, or for past downtown tree work. Economopoulos claimed that Public Works Director and Tree Warden Henry McCully said last year, during a hearing on the removal of six trees at Fishbein Park, that an arborist would be consulted in the future.

“I’m not going to dispute that,” McCully said, adding that the last time he spoke to an arborist was more than 10 years ago.

Over the next two years, McCully said, trees uptown and downtown would be replaced, but the type of trees that will replace them is still unknown. Not every tree will be replaced, he said; about 100 are marked for replacement.

“The trees are obviously overgrown and should be replaced,” McCully said.

Most trees in those areas were planted in the mid-1990s, others in the early 1990s, he said. In his time as tree warden, McCully said, trees have been replaced three times.

Overall, the project is estimated to cost about $65,000, McCully said, with the replacement of the 28 trees on Quinnipiac Street estimated at $15,700. The town has a tree removal and planting company under contract, he said. Trees cost about $268 each.

McCully and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that this will not be the last time trees are replaced.

“Are you telling me 12 years from now we’re going to do it again?“ Economopoulos said.

“Absolutely,” McCully responded. “Maybe a little longer than 12 years.”

“Will this be the last time trees are cut down? Absolutely not,” Dickinson said. Economopoulos was also displeased that a public hearing required by state statute on the removal of trees has been scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday at Town Hall.

“I’m the one who requested it, and I can’t be there,” he said.

Town Councilor Jason Zandri and his father, Geno, both suggested that hearings be held at times more convenient to the public.

McCully said he held last year’s public hearing on tree removal at 3 p.m. “I don’t see why 4 p.m. is all of a sudden difficult,” he said.

At one point, Council Chairman Bob Parisi had to slam his gavel to bring order to the meeting, as Economopoulos took offense to Councilor John LeTourneau’s remark that “It’s amazing we’re having an in depth discussion over trees.”

LeTourneau said trees shouldn’t even be planted downtown because there is not enough room between sidewalks and buildings.

“I believe Henry has been doing the right thing,” he said.

Jason Zandri said business owners in the area should be surveyed to see what they want.

“I would really like us to accommodate their concerns,” he said.

Councilor John Sullivan said he would like trees to be replanted; “I just want to make sure we take a lot of care in terms of layout.”

McCully said there is a desire to keep the layout as is, and to plant new trees in the holes where old trees are removed. It’s easier to plant them in the spot they were removed,he said. To his knowledge, McCully said, the trees are not regularly trimmed and are only pruned on an as-needed basis.

Jared Liu, a Wallingford resident with a background in urban forestry in the Washington, D.C., area, said during the meeting that to cut several trees down at once is “incredibly unprecedented.”

Typically, every fifth tree should be replaced every five years, he said, so that a replacement cycle is created.

Taking all the trees down at once “would create a lot of problems,” he said.

Liu suggested that the town consult with the state’s urban forester, who can give the town free advice. He also suggested the town look into grant and loan programs with the U.S. Small Business Administration, The U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. If there is enough interest in town, he also said state forestry officials can help organize a volunteer citizen action group that could help perform necessary labor at no charge to the town.

Paul Pender, who owns The Old Dublin on Quinnipiac Street, said he initiated tree removal when he lobbied the town to remove four trees from in front of his business because people could not see his sign.

“My only concern is my business,” he said. “I can’t blame Mr. McCully for any of this. He’s under direction from the mayor and the council.”

The public hearing on Friday will not be televised, McCully said. Several residents asked that the meeting be televised, or audio be recorded, but Dickinson said staff is not available. McCully said he would take note of all objections and render a decision by Monday.

Dickinson said that before fall, another meeting will be held by either the Town Council or Wallingford Center Inc. — which played a part in the decision to remove the trees — in order to discuss replacement plans.

Councilor John LeTourneau said trees shouldn’t even be planted downtown because there is not enough room between sidewalks and buildings. Councilor Jason Zandri said business owners in the area should be surveyed to see what they want.

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