Efforts to plant new Main Street trees rooted in frustration
Arbor advocates remain frustrated over when -- even, if -- two dozen trees on Main Street cut down last year, without what they say was the proper permission, will be replaced.
And if new trees are planted, who will pay for them?
Last fall, the Downtown Merchants Association orchestrated the removal of more than 20 trees that had been planted along the sidewalks of the commercial district several years earlier. While the responsibility falls on Westport's tree warden to assure that healthy trees on town property aren't arbitrarily removed, oversight and care for the trees was informally relegated to the DMA by Andy Puskas, who has worked as the town tree warden only one day a week, according to documents released several months ago.
After receiving complaints from town residents, the town's Tree Board has spent time at recent meetings trying to get trees replanted. The panel's urging helped motivate First Selectman Gordon Joseloff to request additional funds for a full-time tree warden, funding that won approval in the town's 2013-14 budget.
At the Tree Board meeting last week, however, members expressed disappointment that it hadn't heard back from Joseloff about replanting trees. Board Chairwoman Pamela Klomberg said Joseloff had indicated he would allocate $30,000 for the project.
"He said he would be willing to provide $30,000 to replace the cost of trees," she said, referencing an April discussion, which was the last time she said the matter was discussed.
"We did a lot of homework," said member Judy James, who along with member Tracey Hammer, collected evidence demonstrating that mistakes were made in removing the trees. "We presented this material ... to Gordon and we have not heard back."
"The town owns the areas where the trees were cut," James said. "We have documents that show they were done illegally and improperly ... and the town needs to put them back."
Joseloff told the Westport News on Friday that he has gotten an additional $132,000 allocated to the Department of Public Works' new budget for a full-time tree warden and additional tree maintenance, bringing its total to $217,400 for the new fiscal year. He said some of that money could be used for the new trees.
Louis Gagliano, who chairs the Downtown 2020 Committee, however, discouraged replanting of the trees, Klomberg said, following a meeting in April. Tentative plans to change the complexion of Main Street, he said, could mean the trees might have to be removed in the future anyway.
"Lou's perspective was that it would be wise if we did not plant south of Elm Street because of 2020 and plans for what's going to happen south of Elm," Klomberg said.
"The town owes us our trees back, the citizens of Westport, for however long they can remain there until 2020 happens -- if it happens," said James.
Meanwhile, while the DMA is not offering to directly provide money for planting new trees, Steve Desloge, the DMA president, said the hope is to start a tree sponsorship program.
"Businesses, individuals and families would be able to have a plaque placed next to the specific tree that they adopt," he said.
"The DMA currently has at least five DMA members who have shown interest in providing funds for an adopt-a-tree program," he said. "The DMA feels that this program would be a very worthwhile effort that would involve and benefit the entire Westport community."
John Broadbin, the assistant public works director, said at minimum it would cost about $1,200 to $1,500 to buy and plant each new tree, not including the ongoing maintenance that might be required.
"Where the money comes from is the problem of Gordon," James said.
"I thought it was settled," she said. "There's nothing else to say."