‘It’s a sin:’ Darien residents fighting to stop tree removal

DARIEN — Residents along Little Brook and North Little Brook roads are fighting to prevent the destruction of 40 trees as part of Eversource’s tree trimming and hazardous tree removal program.

Warning signs were posted on the trees — which sit at the south side of the intersection of the two roads — on May 18 by the town’s tree warden.

A dozen neighbors immediately called on First Selectman Jayme Stevenson to step in and save the trees.

“Quality of life, biodiversity, beauty of the neighborhood will be impacted,” neighbor Richard Poli wrote in an email to the town.

“I think it’s going to make the neighborhood look awful,” said Henry Nisimblat, who has lived on the road since 1985. “Darien is known as a wooded area. Why do we have to cut them down? That’s what I’m really opposed to. I think it’s a sin.”

Stevenson, in an email to the neighbors May 20, said she and other local officials need to find out more before any trees are taken down.

“The tree work is an Eversource project to address vegetation impacts to their transmission lines,” Stevenson wrote. “Our Eversource liaison is in the process of gathering all the information and maps showing the proposed work.

“I’ve asked that nothing occur until me, our DPW director and our tree warden have a chance to review,” she wrote.

Since the notices were officially posted on May 18 by the DPW, there is a 10-day period for people to file their concerns. Mitch Gross of Eversource said if the trees are on town property, residents should contact their local tree warden.

Gross said the work is part of a larger tree removal and vegetation clearing along the Metro-North train line between Fairfield and Cos Cob. Gross said this particular land in Darien is broken into pieces owned by the town, Metro-North, Eversource and the state.

“The goal is to reduce tree-related power outages,” Gross said, saying the number and intensity of storms have increased in recent years, leading to more outages and for longer durations.

Clearing along the train lines is also imperative, Gross said: Some eight years ago during a storm, a large tree fell across the tracks in Greenwich, halting service and knocking power out to thousands.

“We are trying to eliminate those issues … and this program is how we do that,” Gross said.

Nisimblat and others said the property values took a dive after Metro-North did extensive tree and shrub removal on the north side of the tracks, which lay just to the south of Little Brook Road.

“I think they can just trim them,” Nisimblat said of the trees. “There’s no sense in cutting them down.”

“This is an issue not just about our neighborhood,” said resident Natalie Tallis. “This is a question of biodiversity.”

She said state and local officials need to reexamine traditional practices regarding tree removal.

“This is actually where climate change butts up to local issues,” Tallis said. “This is very old-school thinking … that you could take down this many trees and not think about all the consequences.”

Large storms in recent years, however, coupled with issues Eversource has faced with power outages, has encouraged the utility to take more effort to keep trees and branches away from power lines, the company said.

Gross said Eversource has its own arborists identify such areas, then work with the local tree wardens or municipalities on identifying trees or vegetation that requires trimming or removal.

Gross said the work is needed to not only provide for “safe, reliable power service” but also keep the railroad tracks clear.

“Downed trees are the number one cause of outages, especially during storms,” Gross said. “It is critical that we trim overgrown vegetation and remove dead and diseased trees to protect against that happening. One downed tree has the potential to create a lot of havoc … it could impact tens of thousands of customers in that particular area.”

Gross said Eversource representatives have spoken to neighbors in the area about the coming work. He added that the company is open to discussing mitigation plans, such as planting trees compatible with the removed species but do not grow as tall.

Along with ecological impact, Tallis and others said the treeline serves as visual and noise buffers along the road, which dead ends at a pathway to the back of Selleck’s Woods.

Poli said that it was the neighbors who purchased and planted five of the pine trees — now marked for removal — many years ago following a Metro-North clearing.

“Personally,” Poli said, “I have contributed to the life of these trees by pruning vines off the trees through 36 years.”