Letter: Tree cutting was not out of spite
Editor of the Reformer:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Stokes, thank you for the email in which you express concern with the Agency's tree cutting activities in the interstate highway right of way along Interstate 91 in Brattleboro. I have reviewed the information you provided, and have also reviewed information provided by Maintenance District 2 (Tammy Ellis) and the Maintenance Administrator (Ernie Patnoe).
I have reviewed the history of this situation and discovered that District 2 staff have been experiencing repeated issues with limbs (and even trees) coming down in this area. They met with the State Forester, who visited the site and informed us that a number of the trees had reached the end of their life and were considered a hazard. The district hired a tree service and a crane to come in and take down several trees that were considered an immediate threat. After that work was complete, we continued to get calls from abutting property owners in the neighborhood about their concerns with the remaining trees. So when the tree hit Mr. Greenblott's property earlier this year, the district made the decision to go in and remove more of the hazard trees.
Clear cutting is simply not our goal here. The district did have to take a number of the smaller trees to be able to maneuver equipment when dealing with the larger trees. But the plan has never been to clear cut that entire area of the interstate. The district does plan to let growth come back in, but to manage it so the trees that grow back in don't get too big and present future hazard/liability problems. As this point there are only a few trees left to cut in this immediate area — ones that must be handled by a tree contractor — and except for that there are only a few more trees left to the south that the district plans to cut in the coming days.
I understand that you live in the neighborhood, and I understand that you are upset about being able to see more of the interstate than you could before. I also understand that your property is on the other side of the road, and not adjacent to the interstate right of way. I have been advised by the district that the homeowners living adjacent to the right of way fence are very happy with the work and are relieved they don't have to worry every time the wind blows that a tree or limb will fall on their property as happened to Mr. Greenblott earlier this year. We take those concerns related to safety very seriously, as we must.
It's important to note that the tree that fell on the Greenblott's property this spring was, by all outward appearances, one of the more healthy trees in this area. So the State Forester was proven correct, and we realized that cutting a number of these trees was the best option to us because a seemingly healthy tree can be a threat because it is rotten inside. Those are trees that would have come down eventually — perhaps with dire consequences — if we did not take them down. This reaffirms my belief that the district made the correct decision.
You suggested that the trees that were cut provided some sort of noise barrier between your property and the interstate. The "study" you said Ernie Patnoe referenced was actually decibel readings before and after our cutting activity in that area. There were no discernible difference in decibels from the interstate before the cutting versus after the cutting was completed. And given the type of trees (deciduous trees and tall pines with high boughs) and the configuration and thickness of them, this is exactly what we would expect. Per the Federal Highway Administration: "Vegetation, if it is high enough, wide enough, and dense enough that it cannot be seen over or through, can decrease highway traffic noise. A wide strip of trees with very thick undergrowth can lower noise levels. 30 meters of dense vegetation can reduce noise by five decibels. However, it is not feasible to plant enough trees and other vegetation along a highway to achieve such a reduction."
Research has shown that these type of trees in this narrow configuration serve only to provide psychological benefit. To provide a true noise buffer the swath of trees would need to be 100-feet wide or more, and would need to contain a mix of thickly limbed evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs and ground cover. Effectiveness of noise reduction is directly related to the density of branches, stems and leaves. Tall trees like this tend to have fewer lower branches which do not impede sound.
I am disappointed to learn of your allegation that an employee told you "The state got sick of their calls and said if that's the way they want it we'll cut them all." While we did receive a number of calls from Mr. Greenblott (justifiably so) we are not, and did not, intentionally "cut them all" just to be spiteful. That is not how we do business, and I am satisfied that is not what happened here.
The district has been very clear — and I have reinforced this with them — that we closely evaluate the trees being removed to ensure we are not "clear cutting" the entire area. The tree removal is to keep the traveling public and adjacent property safe.
I am sorry that I cannot fully address your concerns about the tree removal in this area. I have copied my chain of command (the Chief Engineer's Office and the Secretary) as well as our Assistant Attorney General on this response for their continued awareness of this topic.
Maintenance and Operations Bureau Director, Vermont Agency of Transportation, Oct. 30
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