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Residents Protest DEEP Clearcutting Along Trout Brook

DEEP Project Manager Dan Biron (center) speaks with residents of the Linbrook Road and Linnard Road area, including Wendy Fair (right). Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The clearing of trees and other vegetation at the end of Linbrook and Linnard roads in West Hartford is part of a federal flood control project.

Linbrook Road resident Michelle Souza (left, in black down vest) speaks with DEEP Project Manager Dan Biron (right). Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Linbrook Road resident Michelle Souza (left, in black down vest) speaks with DEEP Project Manager Dan Biron (right). Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Residents of West Hartford’s “Horseshoe” neighborhood rallied together Monday morning to literally protect their own backyards – attempting to prevent the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) from clearcutting the trees and vegetation at the dead end of Linbrook Road, a project that the state said it must undertake as part of a federal flood control project for Trout Brook.

They received some concession following Monday’s discussion, with the DEEP agreeing to delay work until at least Wednesday morning, increasing the initially-proposed buffer of 2 feet to 20 feet, and a promise to preserve as many large trees as possible.

DEEP trucks had arrived on Friday afternoon to begin staging the area for the project, and that’s when many residents first realized what was planned. The project was immediately stalled when workers cut down a tree and knocked down a power line.

Heavy equipment was in place Monday morning, ready to start clearing trees at the end of Linbrook Road. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Heavy equipment was in place Monday morning, ready to start clearing trees at the end of Linbrook Road. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The project was scheduled to commence first thing Monday morning, but West Hartford Director of Public Works John Phillips convinced crews to hold off and brokered an improptu forum with the DEEP project manager and residents. Heavy equipment sat at the eastern end of Linbrook Road with engines running, waiting for approval to begin work.

Residents of Linbrook Road and Linnard Road will be directly affected by the project as wooded areas that abut Trout Brook will need to be cleared to allow equipment to access the water and remove sediment that has built up over the past 33 years.

DEEP Senior Environmental Analyst Dan Biron, who is the project manager, said that neighbors were informed about the work through a letter that he sent out several weeks ago. However, many residents had no recollection of receiving the letter and others say they did not realize the scope of the work would include removing what they say is a needed buffer between their neighborhood and the noise of Trout Brook Drive.

Department of Public Works Director John Phillips (right) speaks with DEEP Project Manager Dan Biron and residents on Monday morning. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Department of Public Works Director John Phillips (right) speaks with DEEP Project Manager Dan Biron and residents on Monday morning. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Biron ultimately admitted that perhaps the letter, which said that the “$4.5 million dollar project will involve clearing trees and vegetation as well as sedimentation removal from the floodway along all reaches of these watercourses,” could have been clearer about the need to remove all of the trees, including some mature hardwoods.

“We hear noise and traffic as is,” said Linnard Road resident Wendy Fair. “You take this buffer down and you open us up visually to the traffic and the noise is enhanced two-fold, three-fold.”

Some residents directed their anger at Phillips, who has been working to address concerns even though this is not a town project. Phillips said that the work is important and it’s important that it be done “safely and effectively,” but he agreed with residents that the state should have done several levels of outreach before beginning the work.

Trout Brook, looking south from Linbrook. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Trout Brook, looking south from Linbrook. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“Horseshoe” neighborhood residents call the existing space a hidden “gem,” where they can walk along Trout Brook. Children enjoy watching ducks swimming the brook. It’s part of the fabric of their neighborhood, many said.

Although beautiful, the area has become overgrown and Trout Brook has filled with sediment over the years.

“But why do you have to cut down every tree?” resident Dick Fair asked.

Some residents asked if the project could be done from the Trout Brook Drive side, rather than through the neighborhood. Biron said that isn’t possible, for numerous reasons that include the steep grade on the other side, lack of an existing access to the brook, and not enough land on which to place the sediment removed from the water and allow it to dry before it is hauled away. A representative from Paganelli Construction, the DEEP’s contractor, said that two acres of land are required.

Ducks swimming in Trout Brook, facing north from Linbrook. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Ducks swimming in Trout Brook, facing north from Linbrook. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“There were other options, that’s what I’m trying to say, but they were not as good,” Linbrook Road resident Michelle Souza said. “It’s sad, it’s really sad,” she said.

Wendy Fair said that the letter they received was “very vague.” Dick Fair said that it “spoke of rechanneling the brook and dredging it, all good things, nothing about cutting all these old growth trees.”

“This is a cul de sac, it’s an enclave … we’ve been here decades and they’ve done this project before but never approached it this way,” Wendy Fair said. “The issue is a lack of communication and bypassing a public forum to discuss it with a densely populated neighborhood.”

After discussion with residents and Phillips, Biron agreed to the plan to keep a 20-foot buffer as well as to keep some of the larger trees. In addition, DEEP will plan to work with West Hartford officials on replanting the area after the work is complete.

The gate at the end of Linbrook Road is access to the state-owned property where DEEP was poised to clearcut the trees and vegetation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

The gate at the end of Linbrook Road is access to the state-owned property where DEEP was poised to clearcut the trees and vegetation. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

“I don’t want this to come across as a lot of crazy citizens who don’t want things to get done, but this is a logjam because of what hasn’t been done,” Souza said about the lack of maintenance of the floodplain area.

“This is a reset button to what should have been done three decades ago,” Phillips said.

Biron said that once work commences, the tree removal will take less than a week. The removal of the sediment will take approximately a month, he said, but then it will have to dry out before it’s hauled away.

The hardwood trees that are cut down will be “recycled” into items such as picnic tables for parks, Biron said.

“We’ll see,” Souza said regarding the productiveness of Monday’s meeting. She said the meeting was effective in that those involved are now hearing what residents have to say.

Click here for complete details about the DEEP project.

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Neighborhood children drew messages in chalk on Linbrook Road, asking construction crews not to cut down the trees. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Neighborhood children drew messages in chalk on Linbrook Road, asking construction crews not to cut down the trees. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

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