Timing of Work on Beech Trees Questioned in Advance of Monday’s RTM Vote on Arch St Intersection Improvements

For several hours on Thursday, men from Emerald Tree Care worked on the historic Beech trees by the Bolling monument, which is located on the lawn of the Havemeyer building.

The Havemeyer building itself is historic and Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo recently appointed a special committee to consider options for its future.

GFP was contacted around noon Thursday by RTM member Tina Volkwein who was alarmed by the crew using a wood chipper and chainsaw on the historic trees.

As one of the signers the MI referral on to the RTM for the intersection project at Arch Street and Greenwich Ave, Volkwein questioned the timing of the work.

The MI for the project is on the Dec 12 RTM agenda.

Ms Volkwein opposes the intersection project, partly on the grounds that it might jeopardize the health of the century old Beech trees.

Joe Kay, tree operations manager, deputy tree warden for the Town of Greenwich, and Christina Volkwein outside the Havemeyer building on Thursday Dec 8 as tree work takes place in background. Red tape indicates the area of lawn in the town’s right of way that would be paved to straighten the intersection with Arch Street through the proposed intersection improvement project. That project’s Municipal Improvement status has been referred to the RTM, who will take it up on Monday, Dec 12. Photo: Leslie Yager

Ms Volkwein questioned why no one from Parks and Trees was on site to supervise the work.

Unable to reach tree warden Dr. Greg Kramer, she connected with tree operations manager Joe Kay, who came to Havemeyer.

Mr. Kay said the crew was fertilizing and air spading the roots of the trees to address the compaction and to try to prevent Beech Leaf disease.

Also he said the crew was cutting dead wood and over-extended branches, in addition to cutting live branches “to better reveal the memorial.”

Further, he said the work was being done to make the trees healthier, in case the intersection project moved forward.

Greenwich Tree Conservancy director JoAnn Messina arrived at Havemeyer, and said she hadn’t known in advance that the work would take place on Thursday.

She said the timing of the worked “seemed very ironic.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo also came to Havemeyer and said if the work appeared to be related to the intersection improvements, that was not the case.

“They had to do this for the health of the trees,” he said to Ms Messina.

“They didn’t have to do it today,” Messina said. “It’s not the time to do it, two days before Monday’s meeting.”

Mr. Camillo called Joe Kay and put him on speaker phone when he asked why the work was being done so close to the RTM vote.

Mr. Kay said the timing was coincidental, because the vendor, Emerald Tree Care, was already doing work on trees in the area.

“I told (Dr. Kramer)…if this project does go through, and if they cut the road the way they want to, and these Beech trees go into decline, we’re not going to be able to play catch up. I said we’ve got to get ahead of it,” Kay said.

Camillo asked Mr. Kay, “Whose opinion is that?”

“That’s my opinion,” Mr. Kay said.

Camillo told Mr. Kay the trees were not to be impacted at all with the project anyway. “That’s something we gave our word on,” Camillo said.

“If we knew this was going to happen, we should have at least told the people ahead of time so that we could have explained it, so, otherwise we’re on the defensive here,” Camillo said.

When Dr. Kramer arrived, he said all the work being done was to improve the health of the trees.

“This is not something that should be looked at negatively. This is good,” he said. “We’re doing deep root injections. We’re doing insecticidal applications. We’re doing dead wood removal. We’re doing our best to keep these trees alive.”

When Volkwein asked why the crew was not being supervised by the town, Dr. Kramer said, “We can’t afford to have an operations manager stand at a tree for hours and hours when we’re hiring experts. We have to rely on the experts to make decisions.”

Kramer responded to a question about bird nests being tossed to the ground.

“I wouldn’t have a need to remove bird nests or squirrel nests. I would say cut around them. That’s unfortunate. That should never have happened.”

Kramer tried to assure Ms Volkwein that the timing of the work being close to the RTM vote was unfortunate, but a coincidence.

Dr. Greg Kramer, Greenwich Tree warden. Dec 8, 2022
A crew of men from Emerald Tree worked on the Beech trees on the Havemeyer lawn for several hours on Thursday, Dec 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager

On Friday, Messina said the Greenwich Tree Conservancy continued to have concerns about the health of the Beech trees in light of the possible intersection project.

“Although we have been assured that no trees are coming down, historically trees do not survive construction when the construction is as close to the trees as this design shows,” she said. “Town-wide, we have to be more cognizant of trees during construction and not pile up materials and equipment under trees, which seems to be the place most chosen.”

Also, on Friday Dr. Kramer followed up with an email to Ms Volkwein with GFP copied, saying, “A few branches of green wood was removed and it was requested to expose more of the monument. The amount removed would cause no detriment to the trees.”

Kramer said Emerald Tree Care conducted initial inspections a few weeks earlier after a Beech Tree in Greenwich Commons dropped a large branch, and that they determined the ideal day to schedule the work depended on their availability and the weather.

Lastly, on Friday Volkwein said in an email, “When I came on the scene and asked what they were doing to the trees I was told they were cutting out dead wood, yet there were large, obviously live healthy branch limbs with leaves and buds newly cut and lying on the ground in front of the statue.”

“Immediately I feared they had been sent to cut back the tree or worse so DPW could argue on Monday that the trees’ drip lines do not extend over the proposed sidewalk and roadway, which they very much do.”

“While Kramer insisted this was scheduled and necessary pruning, the fact remains that many live branches were cut out of the trees in addition to the dead wood and that the work was unsupervised by anyone from the Town Parks and Trees Department.  DPW argues for moving Arch Street and sidewalk literally onto the extensive root systems of these trees, which are already exposed at the surface, saying there are ‘no plans’ to remove trees as part of this project.  We don’t have to be arborists to understand that excavation and paving so close to these trees will cause their death, even if we don’t ‘plan’ on doing that.”

Crew from Emerald Tree outside the Havemeyer building on Dec 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Crew member carries a branch to the wood chipper. Dec 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Base of one of the historic Beech trees by the Bolling monument after air spading. Dec 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Branches at the foot of the Bolling monument. Dec 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Workers from Emerald Tree Care watch as part of a branch falls to the ground. Dec 8, 2022 Photo: Leslie Yager
Workers from Emerald Tree care tend to the Beech trees on Thursday, Dec 8, 2022. Photo: Leslie Yager