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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

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Ax will fall: Longshore's towering -- and ailing -- trees pose big liability

Published 12:54 pm, Saturday, January 11, 2014

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  • A crowd of about 40 to 50 people came to Longshore Club Park on cold, foggy Saturday morning to hear town officials explain their decision to cut down 15 trees lining the park's entrance. Several of the ailing trees loom in the background of the gathering. Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed
    A crowd of about 40 to 50 people came to Longshore Club Park on cold, foggy Saturday morning to hear town officials explain their decision to cut down 15 trees lining the park's entrance. Several of the ailing trees loom in the background of the gathering. Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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Town officials don't plan to reverse the decision to cut down 15 ailing trees lining the entrance to Longshore Club Park, but they took time on a foggy Saturday morning to show the public why they believe it must be done.

About 40 people came out despite cold, misty weather, including many Representative Town Meeting members, to hear why the town's new tree warden has called for removal of the trees -- a recommendation that sparked an outcry last month.

"I appreciate this entrance and what it means to everyone as much as anyone," said Stuart McCarthy, the Parks and Recreation Department director, who said that since he has worked for the department for 29 years he probably has driven along the entrance -- lined by stately trees -- more than anyone in town.

He said an informal plan to plant new trees along the driveway was drawn up more than 20 years ago, and some trees have been removed since then, but on an individual basis.

"Over the past 10 years these trees really began to decline quickly," he said of 11 tulip trees and four Norway maples -- those designated for removal -- that are the last remaining from a stand of about 100 trees planted more than a century ago.

"Last summer it became apparent to us it would be prudent to remove the final trees," he said. "They are dead and dying, and are potentially hazardous and they are ready to go."

"It is an emotional issue ... for someone who has grown up here," he said. "This is not something that everyone took lightly."

Several people raised the question of whether the trees could be taken down over time and not all at once.

"I think it should be done in a staggered way," said Kristan Hamlin, RTM District 4, who said she lives opposite the Longshore entrance and has heard many constituents voice their unhappiness about the removal plan.

"I don't have a problem with taking three," she said. "I have a problem -- and my constituents have a big problem -- with taking 15 down."

Bruce Lindsay, the town's recently hired tree warden, described in detail ways in which these trees showed decline, including irregular growth at the crown.

"They're notoriously weak-wooded trees," he said of the tulips, which are also susceptible to drought. A process called compartmentalization is underway, he said, and the trees are losing branches and starting to fall apart.

"We're dealing with sick and dying trees," he said. "We're dealing with salt water. We're dealing with excessive winds being close by the shoreline," along with a variety of urban stressors, such as cars and human contact, that continue whittling away at the old giants, in turn making them vulnerable to bacteria, fungus and insects.

He pointed out that three tulip trees near the inn, which are the same age but off the roadway, are strong and healthy.

"I'm the tree warden and I have to make the final decision," he said. "They're very difficult decisions, but necessary."

Public Works Director Steve Edwards said the main issue, ultimately, is liability if tree limbs fall down and cause damage or injuries. "My job is to reduce the town's risk across the board," he said.

Once something is identified as potentially dangerous, he said, it needs to be acted upon.

"We are in such a litigious society ... and when you have something that has been pointed out," he said, remediation is required to avoid liability.

"Trees are a very emotional thing, certainly to everyone here," said First Selectman Jim Marpe, who organized the meeting following the negative public reaction, "especially ones that have stood a long time in an iconic way."

"We will grieve the loss of these major trees, (but) we have a public responsibility," Marpe added.