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Gone is the 200-year-old oak tree that stood at the top of Toddy Hill Road. As of early afternoon on Friday, February 9, crews had cleared the far-reaching canopy and trunk, leaving just a stump on the rise where Toddy Hill intersects Route 34.
Recent site work in the week prior had cleared smaller shrubs and brush, leaving the looming oak in stark contrast to the open lot behind it. First Selectman Dan Rosenthal on Thursday, February 8, had been aware that the oak, which a group of residents had hoped to save with appeals made to officials in the last year, could come down as soon as Friday.
Clearing the site will make way for roadwork reconfiguring the Toddy Hill and Berkshire Road (State Route 34) intersection. The town project has received both state approval and funding.
This week, as crews began clearing the site, resident Pete Sepe — who expressed a desire last year to save the tree — wrote an e-mail to The Newtown Bee stating: “I am stunned that the engineer for this project couldn’t be more creative and that those that give the go-ahead for this project don’t have more respect for this magnificent Oak that was a mere seedling 200 years ago.”
He questions whether its removal will really improve traffic at the intersection. “Time will tell,” he said.
About a year ago, residents, including Mr Sepe, who had learned about the roadwork and who were among several outspoken in favor of saving the oak, saw a notice posted on the tree, which indicated that “Any person, firm, or corporation objecting … may appeal in writing to the Tree Warden within 10 days of posting. At which time a hearing will be held at a suitable time and place.”
The notice was posted on February 21, 2017. Also according to the notice, “If needed the public hearing will be held on March 7 at 9 am, at site.” That hearing took place. However, the decision to continue with road improvements, and the tree removal, prevailed. Mr Sepe had stated that a mistake was made and “nobody knew the tree was there” when engineers planned the project.
Considering some alternatives, including rerouting the road to avoid the tree, Tree Warden Michael McCarthy had said last year, “I’m told that to move the road would be costly. And that would be town, not state, money.”
The State Department of Transportation LOTCIP program is funding the project. The state has committed $2.5 million to it.
“It’s a gorgeous tree, I’ll admit that, but it’s a matter of safety and traffic flow,” Mr McCarthy said.
Mr Rosenthal also confirmed that the town also committed funding to this project.
Despite noting that the old oak was “gorgeous,” then-First Selectman Pat Llodra had said that she could not see a way to both continue with the project and spare the tree.
Public Works Director Fred Hurley had said, in an e-mail, “The tree in question would be in the middle of the new bridge roadway. There is no way to preserve it on the roadway.”
Since hearing residents’ concerns last year, “another arborist came in and concurred that [the oak] is in decline, and shows some forms of rot, not to mention it’s in the way of the project,” Mr Hurley said.
There is “no way to know how long it would last if we left it alone.”
Mr Hurley last year had also explained why plans could not place the new roadway to either side of the tree.
“It can’t be built north of the existing roadway because the new intersection wouldn’t work with the follow-up project that includes a new entrance ramp to I-84. And it would cost another million for the added land taking.”
Current plans are coordinated with an adjacent state project to reconfigure the I-84 ramps. Town Engineer Ron Bolmer had also looked at the plans.
“There are no other locations” for the road repositioning, he had said. The intersection has to stay where it is, he said. “There are not a lot of options.”
A vehicle turns from Berkshire Road onto Toddy Hill Road recently, passing a 200-year-old oak tree that was slated for removal. A roadway reconfiguration will realign that intersection, as well as the I-84 on- and offramps in that area. Between the road project and its deteriorating health, the tree had been slated for removal following a March 2017 public hearing.
—Bee Photo, Bobowick