West Hartford Tree Warden: Boulevard Trees to Remain

Eversource has already pruned the Bradford Pear trees along the portion of Boulevard closer to Ridgewood Road, and will trim the rest of the 22 trees that had been marked for removal. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

John Phillips, West Hartford’s director of Public Works and the town’s tree warden, announced his decision about the Bradford Pear trees on Boulevard on Wednesday morning.

Bradford Pear tree at the southeast corner of Boulevard and Four Mile, where a public hearing was held on Monday, May 13, 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

Several dozen West Hartford residents, as well as representatives from the town and Eversoure, gathered early Monday afternoon on the corner of Boulevard and Four Mile Road, attending a public hearing regarding the proposed removal of 22 Bradford Pear trees, and on Wednesday morning, John Phillips, the town’s director of Public Works and also West Hartford’s tree warden, announced Wednesday morning that the trees along Boulevard will not be cut down.

“After considering the entire record including documentary evidence, written comments submitted by residents of West Hartford and testamentary evidence, the West Hartford Tree Warden has decided to keep the Bradford Pear trees on the Boulevard, despite their contact with power utility lines for the time being,” Phillips wrote in his official “Notice of Decision Regarding Removal Of All Posted Bradford Pear Trees Within The Boulevard South Side Right Of Way From Ridgewood Road To South Main Street West Hartford 06107.”

The trees along Boulevard – part of the backbone of the town’s electrical grid – were originally being trimmed as part of Eversource’s annual maintenance efforts, and about a half dozen of them had already been trimmed this spring. When he saw how the trees looked, and knew they were right below the wires, Phillips said he had a conversation with Eversource and asked about removing the trees because regular trimming on their schedule wasn’t enough to keep the trees from quickly growing back into the utility wires.

Bradford Pear trees marked for removal along Boulevard. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

As the tree warden, and in accordance with Connecticut General Statutes §23-59, Phillips posted a notice of removal on each of the 22 trees, and because there was an appeal, a hearing was scheduled. Fourteen residents had officially appealed the decision to remove the trees, Phillips said in Wednesday’s decision. About a dozen residents who live either on near Boulevard spoke at the hearing on Monday, May 13 – all expressing a desire to keep the trees – and testimony was also given by Eversource Manager of Vegetation Management for Connecticut Jenna Turner and Eversource Arborist for the Hartford Territory Julian Picciano.

Residents advocate for saving the Bradford Pear trees along Boulevard that have been marked for removal at a public hearing on May 13. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Phillips said he has been working in collaboration with Eversource not only to assess the current situation, but also has received their commitment to continue maintenance of the trees by pruning so that they are not in contact with the power lines until such time as “acceptable replacements can be determined,” the notice of decision states.

The rationale for deciding to keep the trees also considered the assessment and mitigation of risk.

“Eversource will continue to assess and monitor the level of direct contact with the power lines,” Phillips said. “The risk is deemed manageable through regular maintenance, such as pruning to keep branches clear of the lines. In doing so the removal of the trees might not be necessary.”

While Bradford Pear trees are considered an invasive species, and the pruning of the trees to remove contact with the power lines will dramatically change their appearance by removing a significant portion of the upper canopy, the decision also notes that preserving mature trees such as these, as long as they continue to remain healthy, benefits the community and “contributes to the aesthetic and environmental value of the Boulevard.”

In addition, Phillips stated that his decision made as tree warden – which is final although subject to appeal within 10 days in accordance with state statute – “also reflects input from the local community, who value the presence of mature trees on the Boulevard. Community members have expressed a preference for preserving the trees, even with their proximity to utility lines,” the decision notes.

Phillips said his decision “is a thoughtful approach to balancing the preservation of urban greenery with public safety and infrastructure concerns,” and collaboration between the town, utility companies, and other stakeholders was essential.

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  • Kudos to John Phillips for handling this situation so professionally and for seeking genuine public input. Not an easy decision given all the competing interests. We really need to preserve as many of our mature trees as possible while maintaining a realistic view of our infrastructure needs. Please let’s not cut unnecessarily and let’s plant the right trees in the right places like there’s a real tomorrow.

  • Bravo! In our older neighborhoods true street trees present walkable, inviting and welcoming environments. Ten foot, scraggly crabapples, set back from the road that make the electric company happy, read ‘We live in the back, don’t know our neighbors, so zoom on by, we don’t care”. Many of our neighborhoods and main streets are turning into urban, fully developed heat sinks that don’t sequester water, mitigate pollution, increase air conditioner usage, signal lack of connection and encourage faster car speeds. Trees have a life span and should be replaced with true street trees, not “landscaping” that allows Eversource to not reinvest in their infrastructure beyond scaring us into clear cutting their problems away.

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