By agreement, Darien authorizes Eversource to remove trees

DARIEN — After nearly a year of mediation, the city of Eversource will allow a large number of local trees to be removed and has negotiated an expanded maintenance schedule with the company for the cultivation — but several neighbors say the agreement doesn’t go far enough.

Last year, the energy company requested the removal of 100 trees – which served as a buffer between the residential street Littlebrook Road and the railway lines – to protect nearby high-voltage power lines. Tree Warden Michael Cotta allowed Eversource to remove 21 affected trees in the area but refused further removal. Eversource felled seven more trees and requested mediation with the city council.

At the most recent Board of Selectmen meeting, the board members unanimously approved the settlement agreement, which allows Eversource to remove 62 trees in lieu of the remaining 72. In return, Eversource must place 400 plants along the property line, including 140 Limber Pines, Arborvitae and/or Junipers.

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First Selectman Monica McNally told attendees that the city fought hard to preserve the 10 remaining trees on the property and that Eversource would be responsible for maintaining and watering the new plants for 18 months, compared to the usual 12 months.

“An 18-month maintenance schedule is unprecedented and an irrigation management schedule is unprecedented from Eversouce,” said McNally. “So those are two things that we fought very hard for.”

McNally said Eversource is required to inspect vegetation one year after planting and replace damaged plants. Six months later, she said, they would return and do the same.

The 62 trees would be removed no earlier than March 1, 2023, McNally said, and the new plants would be in the ground no later than June 1 unless there was a weather event.

Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Eversource, told CT Examiner that planting new vegetation is being decided on a case-by-case basis, but the company has made similar arrangements with other communities.

“A good example would be Greenwich train station, where we also worked out a planting agreement with the city after we removed trees there near our transmission lines.”

While Eversource had established cultivation plans with other cities, Gross said Darien’s 18-month maintenance schedule was “not typical.”

Gross said the company has no set prices for removal, planting or maintenance, and said they buy the plants at wholesale market prices.

At the meeting, McNally thanked residents of Littlebrook Road — who broadly opposed tree removal for quality of life and biodiversity reasons — for their patience.

“I would like to emphasize that I really appreciate the patience of the residents during this time. This has been a very long process and I appreciate the city’s diligence and persistence,” said McNally.

Marie Morgan, who lives on Littlebrook Road, told CT Examiner that many of her neighbors are happy with the development, but she is disappointed with the lack of environmental protection.

“It’s not a visual issue for me – I live further down Littlebrook Road. But I’m really excited about our area and that we border Selleck’s Woods,” Morgan said. “And I’m just so disappointed to see so much mowing in such a critical wetland and critical foliage and wildlife habitat of Darien.”

Morgan said she wishes others in town were more concerned with the distance.

“I wish people had the same reaction and disappointment because once the trees are gone, they’re gone. There’s nothing you can do,” Morgan said. “And these are 100-year-old, really established trees.”

Resident Natalie Tallis told CT Examiner that she was left with numerous questions after the board meeting, particularly without access to the written agreement and plan drawings. She said she wasn’t sure where the 400 plants would be placed and if they would survive.

During the meeting, McNally said 60 arborvitae would be placed along the railroad tracks to provide shielding. But Tallis said she’d like to know the specific species of arborvitae due to wildlife concerns.

“A lot of that isn’t meaningful until you see where the invaders are and where they’re putting the trees,” Tallis said. “And the fact that they plant arborvitae — there are only three types of arborvitae that deer don’t get too close to.”

Tallis said McNally is very proud of the fact that Eversource is responsible for maintenance and irrigation, but cost is just one factor of many to consider.

“To me, it’s a city budget issue,” Tallis said. “No problem of the environment, the quality of life or the real estate value of the city.”