Darien tree warden: Some trees in Eversource's plan can be removed, others must stay

Photo of Katrina Koerting
George Stumpf, arborist with Eversource, takes a closer look at the landscape along Little Brook Road on Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

George Stumpf, arborist with Eversource, takes a closer look at the landscape along Little Brook Road on Tuesday, June 1, 2021.

Jarret Liotta / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — More than 20 trees will be removed in the town’s right of way as part of a controversial Eversource vegetation management plan, meaning all of the other trees slated for removal will remain, the tree warden announced.

The plan, which would clear-cut trees along 18 miles of Eversource’s transmission lines, including 3.5 miles in Darien, has drawn opposition from residents who say it would remove thousands of trees creating environmental and safety concerns, as well as harm property values. Eversource maintains the plan will make the power grid safer and more reliable.

Darien Tree Warden Michael Cotta issued his decision on Sept. 22, the day after the virtual public hearing that drew 100 people. His decision only concerns the trees in the town right of way adjacent to Little Brook Road and Raymond Street. The bulk of Eversource’s plan is on the state Department of Transportation property along the railroad tracks.

Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said he did not have a total figure for the number of trees the company proposed be removed in this part of town or the amount the tree warden denied.

“The tree trimming and removal needs to be done to improve electric reliability for our customers and to address potentially dangerous public safety issues along that right of way,” Gross said. “Our customers — including more than 120 critical facilities like hospitals, police and fire stations in several communities across Fairfield County — depend on us for reliable power.”

Gross said they are considering taking the decision to the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.

“The process allows us to file an appeal to PURA and request mediation with the tree warden and we will be evaluating that option,” Gross said.

People have 10 days to appeal the tree warden’s decision to Superior Court, according to Cotta’s announcement.

Cotta said he approved 20 or so trees for removal because their condition was described as “diseased, defective or dead and provide little or no environmental benefit.”

This includes 10 trees on Little Brook Road, eight on Little Brook Road North, and three on Raymond Street.

He said the unmaintained area in the right of way has trees, saplings, shrubs, briars and weeds.

“Collectively this vegetative natural growth provides a visual screening of transmission wires, railroad corridor and some sound reduction benefits for the neighboring properties,” Cotta said.

He said the proper trees and shrubs that would be 25 feet tall or less can be planted to provide that visual screening and reduce noise.

“Proper remediation and reclamation of the (right of way) after the trees have been removed should be expected and will require extensive excavation to facilitate replanting,” he said. “Some of the existing topography will require creative planting schemes. Properly done, the (right of way) can be replanted with plants compatible to existing conditions to provide the desired visual effects and sound reduction as well as a proper separation from the utility infrastructure.”

Natalie Tallis, a resident that has called for more transparency and a better approach to the vegetation plan from Eversource, said she supported the tree warden’s decision.

“The Darien tree warden’s decision provided a thoughtful and instructive challenge to Eversource’s ill-conceived policy of deforestation and clear-cutting statewide,” she said.

She added this is only a fraction of Eversource’s overall plan though.

“Ultimately hundreds of other trees remain at risk, and largely outside the current debate: these are on CDOT property, or on private property where Eversource owns an easement,” Tallis said.

She said the town understands the repercussions of Eversource’s plan and hoped for other support from the state too, including the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

“Our First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and her team at town hall understand the far-reaching environmental implications of Eversource’s current policy,” Tallis said. “I hope PURA, DEEP, and other elected officials reach out and work with Darien to put an end to this injudicious policy.”