MERIDEN — The City Council last month agreed to settle a homeowner’s complaint of illegal tree cutting during work on the ongoing Harbor Brook flood control project.
Last spring, workers from Richards Corporation began removing numerous trees adjacent to the brook across a 1,000-foot-long stretch between Hanover Street and Cook Avenue. Several residents in the area raised concerns about the work at the time, with some describing it as “clear cutting.”
Judson Nelson, owner of the property at 19 Summer Place, made his complaint to the city in May, several weeks after the work had started. The Record-Journal reviewed Nelson’s complaint and correspondence with city officials through a request made under the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act.
On May 23, Nelson emailed city engineer Brian Ennis with his complaint, which included photos showing the stumps of 20 trees that had been cut down. Nelson cited a Connecticut statute, which he wrote “states that anyone who cuts trees, brush or shrubbery without a property owners’ permission is liable for three times the value of the trees.”
Nelson wrote that the city cut 20 trees on his property “without my permission.” They had included 15 mature trees that Nelson wrote were more than 12 inches in diameter.
Nelson wrote that considering the loss of property value and punitive damages a court might award, he thought the $60,000 he requested would be a “fairly cheap restitution for damages incurred.”
Nelson on Wednesday did not respond to phone calls and a message from a Record-Journal reporter seeking comment.
Ennis responded to Nelson’s email with a set of questions, noting he was asked whether officials know those trees were on Nelson’s property. Ennis also sought additional photographs of the area, which he stated would be helpful.
Nelson quickly responded with additional photos, and a message, stating, “Here’s a couple of photos of my back yard adjacent to the brook before they came and CLEARCUT MY BACKYARD! I have plenty more.”
The photos showed trees cleared next to what appeared to be a carport and shed, which were near a maroon-colored house.
Correspondence over a multiple day period between the two showed city officials found Nelson’s request for $60,000 in restitution to be acceptable. Meanwhile the two sides worked out an agreement regarding the fact that city officials did not previously seek an easement from Nelson to clear the trees along the brook that were on his property.
Nelson stated in an email to Ennis that the payment is “restitution for property damage incurred through the city’s negligence.” He requested that the documents he was asked to sign clearly indicate that, and “that this is not any form of purchase of an easement or right of way.”
On May 26, Ennis emailed Nelson alerting him that the city’s legal department was preparing a release for the tree damage. Ennis requested a meeting with Nelson to discuss an easement granting the city a right-of-way to complete the project. Ennis later notified Nelson that any settlement greater than $3,000 requires City Council approval and that there would be a four to six week period before that approval is granted.
On Wednesday, City Manager Timothy Coon, in an email to the Record-Journal, stated the tree cutting had been planned as part of the project.
“The settlement occurred because the City missed negotiating an easement with the property owner for that particular lot,” Coon wrote. “The property owner has two lots, and the City got an easement for his other lot, but not this one.”
The scope of work in this current phase of the ongoing Harbor Brook project includes widening and deepening the brook’s channel. It also calls for new Linear Trail construction and the replacement of a sewer bridge behind Leslie Drive. City officials expect the project, whose current price tag is close to $12.2 million, to be completed over the course of 18 to 24 months. The project is partly funded through a $6.9 million state Bond Commission grant.