Environment Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-5150

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING TREE WARDENS' NOTICES ON TREES AND SHRUBS PRIOR TO REMOVAL, TREE REMOVAL ALONG STATE HIGHWAYS AND CLEAN-UP BY PUBLIC UTILITY CORPORATIONS FOLLOWING CERTAIN TREE REMOVAL.

Vote Date:

3/16/2016

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

2/19/2016

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Environment Committee

Representative Kim Rose, 118th District

REASONS FOR BILL:

The bill reflects an effort to reconcile the interests of residents, property owners, neighbors, municipalities, utility companies and the environment in tree removal policy. Many citizens have complained of not being made aware when tree cuttings are scheduled and do not feel they have ample opportunity to register objections. There have also been complaints about beneficial trees being unnecessarily cut down along state highways, actions that impact the environment and the state's aesthetic beauty. Also, debris from pruning and removal is often not cleaned up by utility companies, which often places the responsibility on cities and towns.

SUBSTITUTE LANGUAGE

-Amends lines 36-37 of Section 1 by stating that a tree warden may post on a group of shrubs scheduled for non-emergency removal or pruning, rather than shall. Removes the words “that the tree warden determines may have aesthetic or environmental importance”

-Removes language in lines 66-68 of Section 2 requiring a posting on trees or shrubs that an individual or company other than a tree warden is seeking to cut or remove per a permit said individual or company has applied for. Removes a requirement for a public hearing to be mandatory if any person or group objects to said removal or cutting. Adds language clarifying responsibilities with regards to permitting and the appeals process.

-Amends the plan for tree removal along state highways that the Department of Transportation is required to submit to DEEP and the Environment Committee. Requires the plan, which must be reviewed and signed by a licensed arborist, to now detail the following:

● Proposed areas scheduled for tree removal;

● The time frame of such work;

● The amount of funds allocated by the DOT for such work; and

● The distance DOT intends to clear in said proposed areas

-Mandates that utility companies to remove debris generated as a result of pruning or tree removal in utility protection zones

-Requires the utilities to annually submit vegetation management plans to towns where the utility intends to conduct such vegetation management in the coming year.  

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Robert J. Klee, Commissioner and Susan Whalen, Deputy Commissioner – Department of Energy and Environmental Protection: The Department testified that while the bill clarifies the role of tree wardens and improves transparency for the public, it does not leave adequate flexibility for municipalities to determine the threshold for a public hearing but instead imposes a state mandate for public hearings on all tree removals. DEEP prefers to continue to collaborate with DOT, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, University of Connecticut Extension, and electric power utilities developing best practices.

James Redeker, Commissioner – Department of Transportation: The Commissioner testified that the proposed bill adds significant burdens for the DOT, compromises safety and that the Department's tree management plan is already overseen by professional tree wardens and State Licensed Arborists. The Commissioner added that during the three-year period from 2012 to 2014, over 560 motor vehicle accidents were due to trees falling onto the travel portion of the highways.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Shannon Laun, Connecticut Fund for the Environment: Ms. Laun stated her support for the clarification of requirements to post notice on trees or shrubs before they are pruned or removed, and requires a public hearing to be held if any objections are made. She added that the aesthetic and environmental impacts of tree cutting along state highways are not currently taken into account, which may result in beneficial trees being needlessly cut down.

Language requiring a public hearing and consideration of aesthetic and environmental impacts were struck from the bill

Robert M. Ricard, Forest Resources – University of Connecticut: Mr. Ricard recommended that Section 1 and 2 should be one bill and Sections 3 and 4 should be a separate bill.

Leah S. Glaser, Associate Professor of History – Central Connecticut State University: Ms. Glaser stated that trees are historically as much a part of the roadside infrastructure as power lines. She urged that trees be considered for their environmental, economic and cultural resources.

Christy Hass Dlugolenski, Tree Warden – City of New Haven: Ms. Dlugolenski testified that the bill's requirements to post notices and hold public hearing would improve communication and saved the urban canopy. In the days prior to posting all trees, there were many cases of misunderstandings, false information and poor decisions that led to much animosity between and among the residents, the utilities, the tree warden and the community.

Language requiring a public hearing was struck from the bill

Diana Ross, Tree Warden – City of Branford: Ms. Ross supports the bill for its clarification of the tree wardens' role, adding that the requirement to post and to consider aesthetic and environmental considerations gives sufficient flexibility to tree wardens. However, posting should not be required when a permit has been denied.

Language requiring consideration of aesthetic and environmental impacts was struck from the bill

Eric Hammerling, Executive Director – Connecticut Forest & Park Association: Mr. Hammerling supports the bill and the posting requirement as an essential mechanism to inform the public and give the public the right to request a public hearing on these public trees and shrubs if there are objections.

Language requiring a public hearing was struck from the bill

Annie Mixsell, Licensed Arborist: Ms. Mixsell fully supports the bill, especially the posting of all trees, regardless of ownership. Trees provide immeasurable benefits to communities and the environment, and the affected residents should have a chance to weigh in on any proposed pruning or cutting.

Mary Hogue, Chair – Fairfield Forestry Committee: Ms. Hogue supports the bill because it strengthens the role of tree wardens in determining trees and shrubs with aesthetic or environmental significance; requires the Department of Transportation and utility companies to evaluate the impacts of tree removal projects on the local ecosystem and aesthetics and to remove any debris from the pruning or removal of trees.

Language requiring consideration of aesthetic and environmental impacts – including a requirement for DOT to do so in their submitted plan – was struck from the bill

Mary-Michelle U. Hirschoff, Garden Club of New Haven: Ms. Hischoff supports the bill because current state statutes do not cover roadside trees within the state highway public right-of-way. Section 3 includes a process that would ensure that the DOT give some consideration to preservation of trees and environmental benefits they provide when planning tree removals and pruning or granting permits for such cutting.

Michael E. Montgomery, US Forest Service (retired) and Tree Commission of Hamden: Mr. Montgomery stated that the posting requirements provide needed transparency for residents but tree wardens need flexibility to use their discretion. Section 3 needs better definition of “clean up debris” to specify different levels of repair in settled areas vs. wooded utility rights of way.

S. Jane Von Trapp, CEO – Bartlett Arboretum & Gardens Supply: Ms. Von Trapp states that trees provide oxygen and habitats, increase shade, screen wind, offer shelter and privacy, trap dust and pollen, reduce run-off, recharge ground water, filter sound, increase humidity, improve air quality, control flooding, and absorb carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ozone.

Shirley McCarthy, Chair Branford Community Forest Commission: In her testimony, Ms. McCarthy stated that the plan for some oversight/input to the DOT's current degradation of highways is sorely needed, given the unsightly view that has been created by DOT'S nonspecific removal of innumerable healthy trees.

Joseph and Sandra Zautra, North Haven: Mr. & Mrs. Zautra stated that they have been notified by United Illuminating that their trees along the road will be taken down. These trees provide privacy, shade and beauty to their property. There should be a requirement that they replace them with an appropriate planting.

Carol Connor, Groton: Ms. Connor testified that resources could be better spent by DOT than in cutting down so many trees. A better investment might be to remove invasive vines that are killing trees.

The following people recognize that trees are important to clean our air of toxins, provide sound barriers from traffic noise, and shade from the sun. They regret seeing major portions of our once tree-lined roads become clear-cut barren swaths of stumps and woodchip piles.

They feel that the posting requirements for towns, utilities, the DOT and private corporations are reasonable and provide an important opportunity to provide input.

JoAnn Messina, Greenwich Tree Conservancy

Jill Nathanson, Hamden Tree Commission

Kathy Czepie, Hamden

Elizabeth Sledge, Hamden

Maria Brandriff, Hamden

Leonard P. Lipton, D.D.S., Norwalk

Kimberly Gilbert, Winsted

Janet Kazienko

Jean Cassidy, Groton

Carole Osborn , Winsted

Colleen Murphy-Dunning

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Albert Carbone, United Illuminating: Mr. Carbone testified that the proposed legislation will add significant resource burdens for the Department of Transportation. He states his objection to requiring consideration of aesthetics and environmental importance when making decisions of the pruning and removal of trees due to the subjectivity, as well as the requirement to hold a public hearing.

These concerns were addressed in the Substitute Language

Angela l. Ruggiero, Eversource Energy: Ms. Ruggiero believes that this bill goes too far and will not provide benefits to our customers or the residents of the State of Connecticut. The requirement to post each tree or shrub and to hold a public hearing “if any person, firm or corporation objects to the proposed cutting or removal, in whole or in part” are unreasonably burdensome.

The concerns expressed about the public hearing requirement were addressed in the Substitute Language

Paul Quick, SVP and General Manager – Frontier Communications: Mr. Quick stated that the bill places and undue burden on utilities, municipalities, tree wardens and state agencies.

Connecticut Conference of Municipalities: In their testimony, CCM believes that stipulations requiring municipal tree wardens to post on each tree before they are eligible for removal by the utility companies, as well as the holding of a public hearing if an objection is raised, will prove cumbersome and time consuming for municipal tree wardens, many of whom are part-time employees.

The concerns expressed about the public hearing requirement were addressed in the Substitute Language

Connecticut Business & Industry Association: the group testified that recent tree-trimming efforts throughout the state, which were designed to mitigate the damage and risks fallen trees can cause during heavy storms, has been measurably successful. The requirement that local tree wardens post on each tree, shrub or group of shrubs and hold a public hearing if there is objection to proposed tree cutting does not provide necessary balance.

The concerns expressed about the public hearing requirement were addressed in the Substitute Language

Elizabeth Gara, Executive Director – Connecticut Council of Small Towns: Ms. Gara believes the bill imposes unnecessary burdens on communities regarding the removal of trees and shrubs.

Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce: the Chamber opposes the bill due to the burden it would place on local tree wardens and its negative impact on energy reliability.

Patrick McGloin, Vice President – MetroHartford Alliance: Mr. McGloin states that the bill adds new, excessive mandates that place an increased burden on utilities and higher costs on municipalities.

Karl Reichle, Tree Warden (retired) – South Windsor: Mr. Reichle stated that rather than new legislation, the state and towns should enforce current state statutes and make sure each town has an active tree warden to manage both the need for reliable electric service and a vibrant healthy roadside forest.

Reported by: Jane Dauphinais

Date: 3/21/16