Brattleboro neighbors upset by tree removal along I-91

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BRATTLEBORO — A group of neighbors have voiced displeasure over the removal of large trees along Interstate 91, but Vermont Agency of Transportation representatives say it was necessary.

Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-District 2 in Brattleboro, told the Reformer she met with several residents and talked with VTrans Maintenance and Operations Chief Scott Rogers last week. She was hoping to bring both parties together "to have a constructive conversation about how to move forward."

Ariel Nelson, of Winter Street, called the situation "pretty frustrating" and counted seven neighbors altogether who are opposed to the cutting. Aesthetics and noise have been the major issues.

"Now, a lot of the damage has been done," Nelson said. "We hope they don't continue to cut down the whole length of the street. It seems they are really clear cutting."

Traffic, Nelson said, wakes her husband up now at night. Increased winds are another worry of neighbors.

"We really understand people don't want trees falling on their homes and the state doesn't want liability," Nelson said. "But they could have been more graceful about all this."

Charles Stokes, also of Winter Street, said the whole neighborhood is affected by the project. He worried whether property values would go down as a result.

"Somebody got carried away here," he said. "They literally took a beautiful green corridor in the state of Vermont and they devastated it. There's no reason they should have clear cut that whole section of land like they did. They said all the trees were rotten but that's not true. They said that barrier does not prevent noise. But it does, I hate to tell you. I have lived here for 45 years."

During the interview, Stokes claimed he could see a tractor trailer truck driving on the highway from his front window. That had not been possible in the past, he said.

"I think they made a bad decision," he said. "I can't believe the state of Vermont would do something like this."

Tammy Ellis, senior manager at the Agency of Transportation, said a tree limb fell on a private property in November 2012; other limbs starting falling from other trees. Tree experts were called because the agency could not remove them "without putting the property in danger."

Ellis said her group had a few interactions with neighbors about the trees in the months leading to some cutting in October 2013. Then things were quiet until June.

Factors leading to the removal of the trees include age and species, according to Ellis. Because the trees are so tall — about 70 feet high — they presented a number of problems, she said, noting some of them having "very shallow root systems."

About 12 of the trees were Norway Maple, which are invasive to Vermont, according to Ellis.

"Also, a lot of the trees were dead," Ellis said. "Some of the trees are completely hollow. The trunk was completely hollow."

When trees were cut close to the highway, Ellis said, one of the trees with a shallower root system fell on a private property. "Obviously, at that point, you're talking about public safety," she said. "Now, you've had damage caused. The first few times, thankfully, no one was hurt and it was limbs. Now, you have a whole tree tipping over."

The intention was not to clear cut, Ellis told the Reformer. But to get equipment into the site, she said, a few healthy trees had to come down.

"I do understand the concerns but it's not an arbitrary decision," she said. "I don't know how it's being characterized as deforestation. It just is not."

The type of trees that were cut do not absorb sound, according to Ellis. Thicker trees would be needed to create such a barrier, she said.

The agency's plan for the site does not involve any new planting on the approximately 300 feet of land where the trees were cut. Ellis said she expects shrubs and other plants to grow back but not the tall pine trees.

"Mother Nature does take care of itself," she said. "It's the same thing that happens after a forest fire. They don't go back in and replant. Things grow back on their own."

On Thursday, Ellis was waiting to find out whether a specialized crane could be brought to the site to cut down taller trees that have not been taken out yet. With the other trees already out, she worried the taller trees might be at greater risk for falling down.

Elliott Greenblott, another resident of Winter Street, called the plan for regrowth a "30-year solution."

"Because trees don't grow back in one year, especially when you're expecting them to germinate in seed," he said. "They went down and cut every tree for a tenth of a mile. I think it's overreach. They've taken down unhealthy trees and healthy trees."

Greenblott said a tree had fallen down in his backyard and crushed a wooden exercise structure for children worth several thousand dollars. After email exchanges between residents and AOT officials plus letters to editors, he feels he was put "in the line of fire regarding my friends, neighbors and the community."

But Greenblott said he and his wife were not complicit in the cutting.

"There was kind of a lack of clear management involved," he said. "The decision they did was an expedient financial decision with nothing to do with conservation. It had nothing to do with the aesthetics."

The stretch of I-91 in question "has been designated as a scenic corridor or something to that effect coming into the state," Greenblott told the Reformer. Efforts have been made by the Brattleboro Development Review Board and state agencies to "remediate any eye sores," he said.

"And in this case, the AOT has created one," he said. "Nothing is being done to shield the homes along 91 from this increased level of traffic and lack of privacy. That's the bigger issue. It's not the noise."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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