The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

CT DOT criticized for cutting trees overnight

- By Ken Dixon Twitter: @KenDixonCT

HARTFORD — State Transporta­tion Commission­er Garrett Eucalitto and his staff are the targets of sharp criticism over the agency’s campaign of clear cutting trees along state highways and removing green screens from neighborho­ods with no notice in the dead of night.

The criticism boiled over this week when veteran state Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, charged that residents of his town were literally ambushed, with no public notice during a recent tree-clearing campaign along Interstate 95. Transporta­tion officials told Hwang, a top Republican on the legislativ­e Transporta­tion Committee, that town officials had received prior notificati­on of the work, but they promised to provide better direct communicat­ions with neighbors going forward.

Hwang took aim at Eucalitto during a public hearing this week on a variety of bills, including proposals to require the DOT to have licensed arborists sign off on any tree removals; and provide sound barriers for neighborho­ods where the agency removes trees and vegetation. He complained that some of the work occurred at 2 a.m., and literally scared home owners and their families.

“Who’d you notify before you went and cut it?” Hwang said during a 20-minute back-andforth with DOT officials Monday. “It seems to be, according to the residents I spoke with, a complete surprise.”

“When we make the decision to remove trees it is for safety and it’s for the travelers because trees are falling, trees are diseased and dying in our state, but it’s also to protect people if they have to leave the roadway,” Eucalitto said of the clearing programs. “You want to avoid fixed structures that can kill them when they leave the roadway, or cause serious harm and injury to them.”

In 2018 the state reached a multi-million-dollar settlement with the estate of a Pelham, N.Y., couple who died in a 2007 incident on the Merritt Parkway in which a 70-foot tree fell on their vehicle, from which their two children escaped.

Paul Rizzo, bureau chief for highway operations said that over the past five years, Connecticu­t trees have been ravaged by pests including the emerald ash borer, the spotted lanternfly, and the spongy moth. “Our program is to go out there, recognize these hazards and we try to eliminate them,” Rizzo said. “And while we do this we’re trying to create our 30-foot clear zone, which is a national standard for a straight road, a flat road, with a minimum of 6,000 cars a day at speeds of 60 miles per hour.”

Rizzo said that an arborist and environmen­tal planner approved the tree cutting, which was done late at night to have less traffic impacts along the interstate­s and parkways.

Rizzo said the Fairfield public works director was notified in advance of the work and a news release was issued from the DOT warning of lane closures. Adam Boone a landscape designer for the DOT and a licensed arborist, said that since the Fairfield project, DOT personnel now issue notificati­on cards to neighbors abutting highways where tree clearing is scheduled.

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