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Trees to be replanted along Main Street by spring

Updated 1:33 pm, Thursday, December 12, 2013

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  • The Westport Downtown Merchants Association paid to have  trees removed along Main Street, replacing the empty spots with new brick, foreground. Steve Desloge, president of the association, said the DMA was responsible for planting the trees  "about 10 years ago." Photo: Jarret Liotta / Westport News contributed

    The Westport Downtown Merchants Association paid to have trees removed along Main Street, replacing the empty spots with new brick, foreground. Steve Desloge, president of the association, said the DMA was responsible for planting the trees "about 10 years ago."

    Photo: Jarret Liotta

 

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By spring, the southern end of Main Street should be tree-lined again.

Last year about a dozen trees that had been in decline for years were cut down, according to Stephen Edwards, director of public works.

"They were posted and removed," he said Thursday. "Their condition drove it."

He said the decision to chop down the trees was made by the town's previous tree warden, who met with representatives of the Downtown Merchants Association, to plan the tree removals.

But, Edwards said, controversy was triggered when "some others" that weren't posted for removal "disappeared."

"That was compounded because those were on private property," he said. "It's become a hot topic."

Members of the town Tree Board subsequently questioned the propriety of the tree removals, and demanded that they be replaced. The barren appearance along lower Main Street also prompted criticism during this year's political campaign, with Avi Kaner, now a member of the Board of Selectmen, being particularly outspoken in favor of replanting trees.

The lack of Main Street trees -- traditionally decorated with lights for the holiday season -- minimized this year's lighting display to a lone strand of lights zigzagging above the downtown street -- a design that has drawn more criticism.

On Wednesday night, Edwards told the Board of Finance that the town's newly hired tree warden has received a donation of 34 trees from Planters Choice Nursery in Newtown. They are valued at about $8,000, and are currently in storage, he said.

Five or six will be planted along the south end of the street, he said. "There's a nice selection and they are ready to go in there."

He said officials had always planned to replaced the trees that were cut down.

Some trees remain along northern Main Street, but those are also cause for concern to the tree warden, said Edwards.

"A number of those trees have lights nailed and screwed on them," said Edwards. "That's caused concern for the health and welfare of the trees and they have to come off."

He said the holiday lights are supposed to be removed by the end of the year, but some have been up for as many as eight years. "It's a very haphazard operation," he said about removing the lights.

This year, Edwards said, town officials will work with the DMA to get all "the lights off by February."

The discussion of the Main Street tree controversy arose during Edward's request for an appropriation of $497,595 to a capital and non-recurring account as a conduit for spending a reimbursable grant from the Main Street Investment Fund.

Edwards said that funds will reimburse town expenditures on curbing and road surfaces and for installing lights and tree grates downtown.

Finance board member Brian Stern expressed concern about deciding "what we want to make the downtown look like."

He said there's a noticeable difference "as you go down Main Street and across the bridge."

Edwards said there is an "architectural standard" of brick and granite curbing, but not a standard for lighting.

Board member Janis Collins asked what the time frame is for completing the upgrades. Edwards said that if the work isn't done within 18 months, whatever money is left has to be returned.

The board unanimously approved the request.