Who Took the Trees
If you’ve had the misfortune of being stuck on I-84 through Danbury, then you’ve noticed something has changed. In late January of this year, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) spent a few days clearcutting a two-mile stretch of the westbound highway, removing hundreds of trees from the embankment. The ground surrounding the interchange with U.S. Routes 7 and 202 was also rendered bare, leaving only dirt, stumps, and the occasional branch or pile of wood chips.
Photo credit: Colin Cogle
There was no mention of this project in the local newspapers. Searching the DOT’s website revealed a lot of press releases about everything except recent tree removals in Danbury. This author thought this might be the work of the I-84 Danbury Project, in preparation for the eventual redesign and reconstruction of the highway, but emails to them were not answered.
However, culpability was established when Kevin Nursick, a communication director for the DOT, responded to Townsquare Media, a Brookfield media company who owns and operates two local radio stations, i95 in Brookfield and KICKS 105.5 in Danbury. He revealed to their on-air personality “Mr. Morning” that this clearcutting was only routine tree work. Mr. Nursick told them: “It's the state maintenance forces using a contractor to remove a multitude of trees. It's broken down into three categories: your dead, dying and decaying trees, trees that are infected with invasive pests like the Emerald Ash Borer and Gypsy Moths, and of course trees that, believe it or not, were compromised back in 2018 by the tornadoes and macrobursts that hit the area.”
Mr. Nursick added that the Connecticut DOT is "dealing with what we call clear zones and sight lines to some extent. The state has decades of tree encroachment on the highway, because we were never funded to address these issues. Trees have grown too close to the highway and we typically look for a 30-foot clear zone on either side of the highway."
“There's no shortage of tree work to be done in the state, and we'll continue to do the work as long as the funding lasts. So far the feedback has been good, especially from state police who have already commented on the improved sight line."
However, Danbury homeowners must certainly have some comments on their improved sight line of the city’s main thoroughfare. There were never any walls built along that stretch of the roadway. Thanks to this new clear zone, residents who live on Great Plain Road, Carolyn Lane, and the hill around Kellners Pond can enjoy an unobstructed view of the estimated 83,000 to 110,000 vehicles that travel that stretch of I-84 daily.
Beyond aesthetics, the scalping of the land will undoubtedly have an effect on drainage during and after storms, and without live trees to hold the soil in place, erosion may become a concern. Finally, with no word from the DOT about this project, it remains to be seen if they will plant new trees anywhere locally to offset the environmental impact of this little project.
Colin Cogle is a Sierra Club member from New Milford. In his free time, he can sometimes be found stuck in traffic on I-84.