Environment Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

HB-6123

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING TREE REMOVAL ALONG LIMITED ACCESS HIGHWAYS.

Vote Date:

2/22/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

2/8/2017

File No.:

43

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Environment Committee

Sen. Craig Miner, 30th Dist.

Rep. Michael D'Agostino, 91st Dist.

Rep. Linda M. Gentile, 104th Dist.

Rep. Joseph P. Gresko, 121st Dist.

Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, 133rd Dist.

REASONS FOR BILL:

This bill requires the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) to submit to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and the Environment Committee a tree removal plan no less than 120 days prior to removing any trees from state highways. Connecticut residents, community groups, and local municipalities have been concerned of sudden and indiscriminant removal of trees along state highways. These groups advocate for planned removal of hazardous trees rather than the removal of all trees within specific geographical zones.

The bill outlines that the plan submitted by CTDOT must (1) contain a detailed explanation of the areas scheduled for tree removal, (2) specify the dates during which the work will take place and note the amount of money allocated to the project, (3) consult with DEEP and detail the environmental impact of the proposed tree removal, including impacts of erosion, and the overgrowth of invasive species (4) specify the size of the area CTDOT intends to clear, (5) provide for removal of all debris associated with clean up, and (6) require the planting of non-invasive species, as recommended by DEEP to replace the removed trees.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Robert J. Klee, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP: Provided comment on the bill. As proposed, the bill would obligate DEEP to review and make recommendations to the DOT on all tree clearings on state roadways, creating an unattainable burden on the limited forestry staff available to DEEP. The solution offered by DEEP is to continue working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation, in conjunction with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and University of Connecticut Extension, on refining principles and developing best practices for roadside tree and forest management.

Jim Redeker, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT): Opposes the bill. A significant part of CTDOT's mission includes the pruning or removal of dead, dying, or decaying trees and vegetation in state owned roadways. CTDOT employs tree wardens in each of their 4 districts who report to a licensed state arborist. The employees are qualified experts in identifying potentially hazardous trees and establishing tree management priorities along state roadways. The removal of overhead trees and vegetation increases sunlight onto roadways which, in turn, raises pavement temperature, thus allowing accelerated road conditions during the winter. Utility companies also trim and remove a large number of trees throughout the state under a CTDOT permit process. The passage of this bill would require an increase in department staff and resources on multiple fronts.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Jacqueline Algon, member, Wilton Conservation Commission and Wilton Tree Committee: Tree removal as currently practiced is a great expense to Connecticut tax payers. Having no plans to replace the trees removed is destroying the ecology of Connecticut.

Rebecca Bombero, Tree Warden and Director of Parks, Recreation and Trees, City of New Haven: The bill is good in that it bring attention to trees, “the purest form of public good”; however, efforts focused on trimming and removing trees should be directed towards identifying and minimizing specific tree hazards.

Kathy Conger, President, Stonington Garden Club: It makes sense for the Connecticut Department of Transportation to have a plan that is submitted to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for review and assessment of the environmental impact of any proposed tree removal.

Elizabeth Y. Craig, Secretary, Norwalk River Watershed Association (NRWA): This bill is necessary because excessive tree removal is expensive, harmful, and unnecessary. The removal of trees by the Connecticut Department of Transportation seems to have been done without consideration for health and sustainability of roadside wetlands. Tree retention in wetland areas is essential for water purification, ground water re-charge and flood control.

Diane Hoffman, For Hamden Alliance for Trees: This bill will help Connecticut save tax dollars while maintaining healthy and beautiful treescapes.

Nancy Mancini, Member, Branford Community Forest Commission: This bill is necessary to ensure tree removal is overseen by a licensed arborist, and ensures that steps are taken to replace removed trees.

JoAnn Messina, Executive Director, and Francia Alvarez, Chair of the Board of Directors, The Greenwich Tree Conservancy: The Merritt Parkway is heavily travelled, trees act as noise buffers and helps control air pollution. The absence of replacing removed trees are of great concern to the Greenwich Tree Conservancy.

Dr. Shirley McCarthy, Chairperson, Branford Community Forest Commission: The Branford Community Forest Commission are against wasting state resources on unnecessary destruction of trees which are vital to countering climate change, reducing erosion, and critical to wildlife.

Andrew W. Minikowski, Legal Fellow, Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE): Although supporting this legislation, the bill should be modified to “explicitly provide consideration of other environmental impacts.” CFE urges the inclusion of climate change impacts to the list of express environmental considerations that the Connecticut Department of Transportation must take into account in its coordination with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Bonnie Sullivan, President, The Garden Club of New Haven: It is necessary to ensure that the costs of removing healthy trees, and the benefits trees bring, are not unnecessarily high. Careful replanting of areas where trees are removed will ensure that new problems such as erosion and rampant overgrowth of invasive species will not require costly remediation in the future.

The Environment Committee received in excess of 60 additional similar testimonies supporting the bill and expressing concerns for the environment and the many benefits trees provide.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

John P. Flanigan, Hamden, CT: Is a business owner, who oversees tree removal and construction projects. There has been considerable, very well done removal by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Tree removal is a precautionary measure to eliminate trees that have been allowed to grow too close to the highway, thus creating hazards with rain and snow. Flanigan shared testimony that he has not noticed evidence of invasive species, and that areas cleared are in the process of being landscaped.

Reported by: Jamie Hobart / Ussawin Bumpen

Date: 3/23/17