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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    New London City Council declines to ax shade tree commission ― or prune its rules

    Maggie Redfern pauses at the intersection of Montauk Avenue and Plant Street in New London as she bikes to work Tuesday, December 20, 2022. Redfern is president of the volunteer New London Trees group, which plants and cares for trees across New London, and is opposed to a proposal to eliminate the city’s Shade Tree Commission. (Sarah Gordon/The Day file photo)
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    New London ― A plan to dissolve a city commission and potentially avoid another expensive lawsuit was indefinitely delayed this week after several citizens voiced concerns over the impact the move might have on New London’s trees.

    The City Council on Monday tabled two agenda items related to the Shade Tree Commission, including a call by officials to eliminate the group and declare “null and void” a set of tree care standards created more than a decade ago.

    The items were referred to the council’s finance and public works committees for a joint June meeting.

    Mayor Michael Passero and Law Director Jeffrey Londregan said the proposed changes were recommended by the city’s insurance carrier, CIRMA, in reaction to a “large, adverse” civil judgment the city paid out last year after man was injured by a fallen tree near Ocean Beach in 2019.

    Londregan said since CIRMA handled the negligence case, his office was not “at liberty to publicly disclose” the judgment amount.

    The “arboricultural” standards approved by the commission in 2010 made tree maintenance in New London a “ministerial act,” or required one, rather than a discretionary call, and stripped the city of governmental immunity if sued for negligence.

    Proposals to eliminate the commission and its rules seemed to take several residents aback, including Maggie Redfern, president of the volunteer New London Trees group, which plants and cares for trees across New London.

    Redfern said the ending of the commission and its standards is an unnecessarily drastic step, especially as the city currently does not have a permanent tree warden.

    “I urge you to postpone eliminating these standards and eliminating our Shade Tree Commission,” Redfern said. “Please consider revising the standards and salvaging the good parts.”

    Groton resident Maggie Jones, a New London native who serves as Stonington’s tree warden, said while there are opportunities for improving the city’s tree standards, abolishing the commission isn’t a solution.

    “The last thing we need is to start taking protection away from trees,” Jones said.

    Londregan clarified the proposals before the council would not translate to less tree protection in New London.

    “These motions are not intended to be anti-tree,” he said, noting there is a separate commission that already advises the public works department. “We are one of the only communities or municipalities that has a procedure that removes government immunity. Most communities just operate under the general statues and the tree warden, which is all this is intended to do.”

    Councilor Jefferey Hart said his concerns lie primarily with the speedy nature of the proposal.

    “Taking a massive decision like dissolving an entire commission and repealing an entire set of ordinances is something that we should not be doing without proper consideration by a committee” he said.


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