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Tree-Cutting At Hartford Public, Goodwin Park Angers Residents


September 13, 2011

HARTFORD The recent removal of trees in two neighborhoods has upset some residents, who have raised questions about the city's commitment to preserving its trees.

At Hartford Public High School last month, a giant European beech estimated to be more than 150 years old was cut down after officials expressed concern about student safety. The tree was at the school's main entrance, and officials were worried that dying branches might fall.

The tree's removal saddened Robert "Luke" Williams, a retired Hartford Public teacher who runs a museum dedicated to the school's history. Williams said that the tree became a safety issue and was ultimately lost because the city didn't have a full-time forester to look out for it.

The trouble for the beech tree started several years ago when construction crews working on the school's renovation drove over and parked equipment on its root system. Eventually, the tree's health declined. Williams now worries that continued neglect will lead to a similar fate for a nearly identical beech at the north end of the campus.

Jack Hale, the city's interim parks director, said that new ordinances governing construction work around trees and tree removal in general will allow the city forester to better protect trees like the beech at Hartford Public.

Hale said the city forester position was filled in December 2009 by John Timm, the city's parks superintendent. Timm replaced Johh Kehoe, who retired. But Hale said that he couldn't predict when enforcement of the new ordinances would begin, and that Timm is already performing another full-time job.

"He is what the city has," Hale said. "There is a plan to hire a full-time person, again, without a specific time frame."

Residents are also upset by another tree removal that occurred Monday on Hubbard Road at Goodwin Park, where the city hired a contractor to remove more than a dozen trees and prune scores of others.

Hale said the city wanted to remove the trees because they leaned over the street, causing a safety hazard.

Hale said that trees have been falling into the street there for years and that the forest needed to be thinned.

But John Brodeur, a retired city forester who has lived on the street for 35 years, disagreed, and said that the city was breaking state law requiring municipalities to notify the public of its intent to cut down healthy trees.

"They can't just arbitrarily cut them down," Brodeur said.

Hale acknowledged that if healthy trees don't present a hazard, the public should be notified, and that the case could be made that the city overstepped its authority in having them cut down without doing so, but added that the city believed they were a hazard.

"In this case, the forest really did need to be trimmed," Hale said.

Brodeur criticized the city's lack of a full-time, qualified forester.

"There's no one that knows anything about trees," he said. "It irritates the hell out of me, but I'm just a tree guy."

Hale said that the city is committed to hiring a forester and has plans to train some of its parks employees in tree care.

In the meantime, he suggested that residents with tree concerns contact the city through its 311 program. Residents may dial 311 on a land line, 860-757-9311 by cellphone, send e-mail to 311@hartford.gov or visit the city's website.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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