EASTON, Conn. – A group of Easton residents are challenging the Aquarion Water Company over what First Selectman Thomas Herrmann called “nothing short of a commercial lumber operation in full-force” along Everett Road.
Aquarion announced in December that it would begin clearing trees that were downed by Hurricane Sandy in the Centennial Watershed State Forest. The forest surrounds the company’s reservoir and is co-managed by Aquarion and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Easton residents said that the press release announcing the program did not reveal the full scope of the project. Many areas were “clear-cut,” taking down even standing trees. The loggers also left behind stumps and other debris, leaving the area around the reservoir “like a dump,” said Easton resident Joe Mencel.
A group of 32 Eastonites in the Everett Road area signed a petition asking the Board of Selectmen to order Aquarion to stop operations and to clean up debris in the areas they’ve already worked.
“I think you really need to just stop, maybe get some experts in a room, have a meeting and take another look at this,” Mencel said. “Because right now it just looks absolutely horrible.”
Hermann said at a Board of Selectmen meeting Thursday that the town did not have the authority to stop Aquarion’s work unless they encroached on the town’s land. Aquarion forester Gary Haines and DEEP forester Gerard Milne also used the meeting to explain some of the science behind the company’s tree-clearing work.
Milne explained that the white pines that they are clearing are not native to the area, and were over-planted by the state in the 1920s. As a result, many were too weak to survive the storm, and those left standing would have been too weak to survive much longer.
The foresters also do not plan to replant any trees in the area. Instead they will let seeds from native species in the area take root, which would create a stronger forest decades down the line, Milne said. Aquarion and the DEEP had also planned to clear some of the area more gradually, but had to move more quickly because of Hurricane Sandy.
“This was kind of forced upon us, but in some ways it’s a good because now we’re going to have some younger forest,” Milne said. “It’s unsightly, I know, but in a couple years it’s going to explode with growth.”
Much of the existing stumps and brush cover will also remain, Haines said. They will provide natural habitats for a variety of wildlife, and as they decompose they will add nutrients to the soil for the next generation of trees.
Aquarion head of Watershed and Environmental Management Leendert DeJong said that the company would do some further clean-up work at its Easton sites to make it more appealing to the neighbors while the area regrows.
“This is a process,” DeJong said. “Certainly we can appreciate the fact that this is in your backyard. This is a whole lot different than what [we] were able to provide for many years, but this is also an aging forest….We’re doing our best to try to address that.”