Darien, Eversource can’t come to an agreement over trees. So they’ve brought in a mediator.

Eversource is planning tree trimming to lower Darien outages.

Eversource is planning tree trimming to lower Darien outages.

Eversource

DARIEN — The town has begun mediation with Eversource over the energy company’s proposal to remove nearly 100 trees in Darien as part of a broader vegetation management plan — a move that dozens of residents have opposed.

Town officials have participated in one mediation session with Eversource so far, with another expected in the coming weeks, according to a Dec. 14 message posted to the town website.

The town said it discussed a variety of longstanding concerns during the meeting, including the town’s opposition to clear-cutting in the area of Little Brook Road and residential worry about noise pollution and environmental damage.

Eversource has already begun removing 21 trees along Little Brook Road and North Little Brook and Raymond Street, where Eversource’s transmission lines partly lie. The removal had been approved by Tree Warden Michael Cotta because the trees are “diseased, defective or dead and provide little or no environmental benefit,” he said Sept. 21.

“The removal of the 21 trees already approved for removal by the Tree Warden will allow us a much better perspective on the remaining trees,” the town wrote in the Dec. 14 update. “It is important to show the mediator that we are willing to move forward in good faith, but we shall continue to represent that the town and its residents are in firm agreement that clear cutting will not be supported.”

Cotta’s decision triggered the appeal for mediation from Eversource, which said the removal of the remaining 71 trees — which Cotta had denied — was paramount for safety and reliability of the power grid. They cited a high number of tree-caused power outages from Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020.

The targeted trees are part of the town’s right of way. Much of Eversource’s broader plan is on the state Department of Transportation property along the railroad tracks.

Residents have long argued that the trees helped combat noise pollution, provide a visual barrier to the railroad and protect the safety of children who play near the tracks.

Resident Natalie Tallis said the timing of the tree removal concerns her, calling the town’s decision to approve taking down the 21 trees in December “short-sighted.

“The result is no natural buffer between the train tracks and the road for the entire winter and into the spring,” Tallis said, adding that the now-destroyed trees served as a habitat for some wildlife. “Besides other critical issues, residents are concerned about the increased potential for flooding in the coming months, and we have no agreed-upon (a) replanting proposal from Eversource.”

Eversource officials say they want to remove trees that are “incompatible,” or that interfere with the transmission lines, and are generally at least 15 feet tall at maturity. They have said they will conduct mitigation planting with shrubs and other vegetation, the details of which will be worked out in future mediation sessions.

Darien is not the only town that stands to be affected by Eversource’s vegetation plan, which spans 18 miles along the company’s transmission lines including 3.5 miles in Darien. Other towns listed in the plan are Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk and Westport.

“We remain committed to finding a creative, alternative approach in partnership with the community to address the trees that need to be removed in Darien,” said Mitch Gross, a spokesperson for Eversource, in an email.

Darien First Selectman Monica McNally said during mediation, the town requested an environmental impact study on the affected area, which was declined. The town also requested Eversource adjust its planting plan to include better sources of noise screening.

“That is still on the books to be discussed,” McNally said, adding “It's really important, on the town side, that we respect that process. As officials and as citizens, we want this to go forward in the most positive way.”

Includes previous reporting by Katrina Koerting

raga.justin@hearst.com