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    Monday, May 29, 2023

    Homeowners love their trees, until they come crashing down

    After cutting off the limbs, Barry Watrous cuts off a section of the trunk of an 85-foot red oak Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, that was damaged during Tropical Storm Henri at his home in Ledyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Mystic — On the corner of Burrows and Allyn streets is a fortress of towering hedges and intertwining maple, oak and pine trees so thick, it's easy to miss the small yellow house within when driving by.

    Daniel Sims, the owner, stopped mowing his lawn years ago to form what he calls his "bird sanctuary."

    Following Tropical Storm Henri on Aug. 22, Sims discovered that one side of a large white pine in his backyard had split and fallen on top of neighboring trees and his shed.

    "I didn't see or hear it fall," he said.

    Sims, like most Connecticut residents, loves trees, which provide shade and privacy, but rarely thinks twice about trimming or removing them — that is, until severe weather is forecast.

    About 60% of the state is forested and 73% of that is owned by individuals, families, land trusts, Native American tribes and corporations, according to the state. Municipalities own an additional 9%, and the rest is state owned and includes forests in state parks and along highways.

    Ownership, however, is not always clear and maintenance is not always easy, especially when tree removal is costly and there has been a rising number of dying trees in the state due to widespread aging and pests.

    The tree that split in Sims' backyard fell near the side of Allyn Street, a state right of way, and rests slightly on the property line that he shares with his neighbor. Living on the Groton side of Mystic, Sims called the town highway department, who after inspecting it, sent a request to the state Department of Transportation.

    State vs. municipality

    Trees along state roads are under the authority of DOT and trees on public land along municipal roads are under the authority of municipal tree wardens. Every municipality is required to have a tree warden.

    David DeNoia, superintendent of New London's Public Works Department, also has served as the city's tree warden for 12 years. A licensed arborist, he said his responsibilities include taking care of the city's trees, maintaining their health and, above all, ensuring the safety of residents around them. He identifies the trees that need to be trimmed or removed.

    DeNoia said there are a lot of dying trees, due in part to wood-boring invasive species like emerald ash borers and gypsy moths. Among the most common trees in this region are oaks, ashes, pines and maples. Ash borers are as devastating to green ash trees as gypsy moths are to oaks.

    The pests weaken trees, which become vulnerable to severe weather.

    DeNoia said the city looks out for trees that may pose a threat before a storm, but apart from picking out the obvious ones, it is not an easy task.

    "You never know which tree will fall," he said. "Fully leafed, healthy trees fall down with no hints that they would."

    When it comes to pruning trees near power lines, DeNoia said he reaches out to Eversource.

    Eversource tree management

    Often working alongside municipalities and the state, Eversource, which provides power to 149 towns in the state, shares a role in the maintenance and vegetation of trees along its power lines.

    Sean Redding, the manager of vegetation management for Eversource, said the utility has 17,000 miles of electric lines they routinely maintain every four years.

    Redding said they prioritize the maintenance of trees alongside "backbone" power lines that serve the most customers. In southeastern Connecticut, he said the main lines they prioritize are the ones that run in and out of the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in Waterford.

    The utility hires contractors to remove hazardous or dying trees in proximity to the lines and trim branches overhead and to the side of the lines. The contractors are obligated to clean up after a scheduled visit but not after power restoration.

    To meet the demand of post-storm cleanup, the company partnered with 16 of the hardest hit communities in the state after Henri.

    Private tree services

    Sims and many other respondents to a query by The Day said they don't remove trees because of the high cost to hire professionals for the job.

    Bill Lillie, owner of Sprigs and Twigs in Gales Ferry, said the cost is high because the process is complicated. The tree division of his landscaping business started 11 years ago, employing an arborist and purchasing a bucket truck. The price to remove a tree depends on the height and weight of the tree, the hours it takes and how accessible it is to the truck.

    Lillie said he provides free estimates to potential customers, adding that not everyone accepts the proposal, like any other business.

    Barry Watrous of Ledyard is a self-taught tree removal specialist who began climbing trees as a kid and never stopped. He said he can go where a truck can't. He climbs the tree, slowly cutting branches with a saw as he makes his way to the top, then cuts down the tree at the bottom.

    Watrous, not a licensed arborist, calls his methods "unorthodox" and said he has learned to use minimal equipment. He enjoys the work, which the 67-year-old only started doing for hire about 10 years ago.

    "There is a lot of art and science that goes into cutting a tree down," he said, including making precise calculations of the tree height and the path of its fall.

    In the case of damage prevention, Watrous said homeowners do not necessarily have opt for cutting down unless the trees are hazardous or dead. Limbs are what tend to cause problems, especially if they are in proximity to homes. He said rainwater differs from drinking water due to its higher surface tension, and that rain, along with strong winds, causes limbs to fall.

    Watrous said he discourages anyone who doesn't know about trees to refrain from cutting down a tree themselves.

    On Thursday, Sims, the Mystic homeowner, said via email that a DOT worker had visited him to look at the fallen tree and informed him that the right of way on the DOT section of the route only extends one foot into the sidewalk from the edge of the paved road. He was told the tree was on his property, and DOT could not remove it.

    Sims said he would leave it there for now and try to remove it in the fall.


    Barry Watrous cuts off a limb while felling an 85-foot red oak Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, that was damaged during Tropical Storm Henri at his home in Ledyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Barry Watrous cuts off a section while felling an 85-foot red oak Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, that was damaged during Tropical Storm Henri at his home in Ledyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Barry Watrous cuts off a section while felling an 85-foot red oak Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, that was damaged during Tropical Storm Henri at his home in Ledyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Barry Watrous shows the steps on how to calculate the height of a tree before he fells it Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at his home in Ledyard. The tree was damaged during Tropical Storm Henri. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Daniel Sims stands in his backyard Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021, looking at the forked trunk of a pine tree that came down on his property in Mystic on Sunday during Tropical Storm Henri. The tree did only minor damage to the toolshed due to landing mostly on other trees. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The forked trunk of a pine tree that split and came down on Daniel Sims' property in Mystic on Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, during Tropical Storm Henri. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    A tree limb hangs in the power lines Sunday, Aug. 22, 2021, along McCurdy Road in Old Lyme after Tropical Storm Henri came ashore. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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