Call to Stratford Residents: Save our Trees and Climate

Time For A Comprehensive Environmental Strategy

By: Barbara Heimlich
Editor Stratford Crier, Passionate Environmentalist and Stratford Resident

In Chapter 200-Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vegetation, of the Town of Stratford the statutes call on the Town to promote and protect the public health, safety and general welfare of the residents by providing for the regulation of the planting, maintenance, protection and removal of trees, shrubs and woody vegetation within the Town of Stratford.

The Town of Stratford is to “Recognize and appreciate that trees produce oxygen, capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, provide air purification, prevent soil erosion, control flooding, assist in water purification, contribute to the quality of life by providing cooling shade, provide habitat for wildlife, reduce noise levels, and aesthetically enhance the landscape.”

“Preserve and protect trees and their canopies as an important environmental and cultural resource that enhances the Town of Stratford’s natural character and heritage.”

“Protect the people in the Town of Stratford from personal injury and property damage caused by the improper planting, maintenance, protection or removal of trees, shrubs and woody vegetation located on Town-owned property.”

“Protect property values by maintaining a healthy and vigorous community forest.”

Lofty ideas and goals that would enhance our community and improve our economic viability. – If only the Town of Stratford lived up to and enforced their own statutes.

So what is my inspiration to wax poetic about trees in The Stratford Crier?  Was it all of the publicity concerning the lack of and shortage of Christmas trees due to climate change?

No, it was a posting on social media concerning the removal of 2 old growth Maple and 6 old growth Oak trees at Longbrook Park so that 4 new concrete tennis courts could be built, as well as seating and lights. Note: present courts at Longbrook are clay.

I was aware that the Town was spending money (to date listed as $750 thousand just for materials) to restore and rebuild tennis courts within the Town, with a goal of having the Longbrook Park tennis courts become home court for the Stratford High School Tennis Team, which, according to those also following the development, also called for bleachers and lights to be installed as part of the tennis courts being built.

What I did not know was that according to Tucker Chase, a local architect, “There are two existing clay tennis courts on Prim Street at Longbrook Park.   There are eight hard courts at Short Beach.  What these ten courts have in common is that they are ALL unplayable because the surfaces are filled with holes – in particular the clay courts appear to have been a training ground for land mine detonations.  Nets rarely appear at these courts which forces tennis players to compete with the schools for playing time at Bunnell or Flood or go to another town. For years the courts have been deteriorating.  If the town cannot take care of the courts it has in our public parks what will be the fate over time of any new ones?  It appears easier to pay an outside contractor, architect & engineers large sums of money to install something new rather than to maintain the good that we have.  I believe the quantity and diversity of the courts in the town are adequate to serve the tennis playing population, but since all of them are currently unplayable we are in the Catch 22 of a self-perpetuating debacle that the town proposes ‘fixing’ by destroying valuable trees that cannot be replaced.”

The Stratford Crier contacted Town Councilwoman Kaitlyn Shake, who also heads the Longbrook Park Commission.   According to Councilwoman Shake she had been requesting documentation since June, and was just provided information on Monday (December 27th) of the description and location of the trees.

The October 6th meeting of the Longbrook Park Commission it was reported by Park Superintendent Chad Esposito, Parks Superintendent, “Current status of Longbrook Park tennis courts: All bids so far have been over budget of 750,000 – therefore non accepted. Updated plan includes removal of 7 mature trees or more which was not included in original presentation to Longbrook Park Commission. Commission is following up for need of 8-24 review and public forum before any work.”

At the commission’s December 1st meeting Mr. Esposito reported:

“Kick off Longbrook tennis court project meeting was Tuesday November 30th. 9 trees will be removed. 14 trees will be replanted”  Questions and concerns were posed to Mr. Esposito re: (1) color scheme of the tennis courts (2) environmental mailer to area residents re: construction of the new courts (3) parking strategies.”

Ms. Shake raised the complaint that the commission was never informed of the final project plan and reiterated that moving forward updates should be emailed to her directly so they can be disseminated to commission.

This lack of information (how about being branded as transparency?) on the plans, despite no public comment, or supporting documentation submitted to Planning, the Town Council approved the plans and tree removal.

When first submitted to Planning they requested that the plan address the water issues for Longbrook and do an 8-24 Review for wetlands, as the project did not address the water issues that would be affecting the courts.  Despite Planning’s suggestions, the Town Attorneys were sent to the next Planning meeting on September 21st to claim that it did not need to do an 8-24:

(e) Longbrook Tennis Courts (Planning Commission Minutes)

Bruce Jackson, Assistant Town Attorney stated the definition of an 8-24 Review, and explained that the work at Longbrook Park tennis courts is not defined as a “substantial change to the park” but is rather just a change to one part of Longbrook Park.  Ms. Attota (Town of Stratford Planning) reminded members that the Planning Commission is part of the entire Town. The Town Council ultimately chooses whether it should be sent to the Planning Commission, and suggested discussing the matter with Parks Department Mr. Staley (Planning Commissioner) stated that it will he Stratford High School’s home court, but feels the process should be done correctly. Mr. Watson (Planning Chairman) noted that Town Council members are not planning experts. Per Mr. Boyd (Planning Commissioner), the Planning Commission was not aware of the plans until after the 35-day window closed. Mr. Watson accepted a motion by Mr, Gerics (Planning Commission member) to request the Town Council re-visit the Longbrook Tennis Courts plans. Mr. Boyd seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

State Representative Joe Gresko, 121st District, weighed in on the proposal (as has others in response to the call for public comment):

“Although the town council has approved the tennis court project at Longbrook Park, I’m appealing the removal of the eight trees, especially the old growth oak trees, which as you know, are icons of the park.  Having worked together to secure the recent $37K grant from DEEP to plant more trees in Stratford to increase our canopy, these existing majestic trees are already accomplishing that goal.  I realize this last minute objection is not what those who worked on the project want to deal with, but I believe it’s critical to preserve as many old growth trees as possible.”

Representative Gresko continued: As a suggestion, altering the tennis court design and potentially moving it closer to the street would potentially alleviate the tree removals.  Stratford is a great town to live, among the reasons, “offering more from forest (trees) to shore.”

Tucker Chase: “It would make much more sense to repair the clay courts at the Longbrook location and not install any more. For those who want hard courts there are the eight at Short Beach & the eight total at the two at Bunnell and Flood schools.  Preserving the fragile ecosystem we have is worth so much more than pouring more than 500 cu. yards of concrete to replace the irreplaceable particularly when there are readily available alternatives – ie maintain the good that we have and leave the trees alone to do their magical work.”

Tom Yemm: “On behalf of my neighbors and myself, I am requesting a public hearing prior to the removal of the eight mature oak and maple trees in Longbrook Park, adjacent to the existing tennis courts, and posted for removal per CGS 23-59, Chapter 451. I do believe that on any occasion in which one or more of Stratford’s ancient legacy trees is scheduled for removal, there is a need for public input. This is one of those occasions; hence my request.”

For several years I have been following what I view as a reckless tree removal plan that has altered our landscape in town for years to come.  Not only has the Town denuded swaths of what formerly was a tree lined landscape that enhanced our Town’s appearance as a quaint New England town, but very few trees have been planted to replace those cut down

Below are a few examples of the town’s incoherent strategy to:

“Preserve and protect trees and their canopies as an important environmental and cultural resource that enhances the Town of Stratford’s natural character and heritage.”

  • Stratford Forward last Summer did a survey and found over 70 stumps or empty tree sites on Main Street from East Broad  to Lordship.  No new plantings.
  • This year, with the town assuming ownership of the Rebecca Bunnell House (next to Sterling House) we witnessed devastation of  another landmark. Denuding the space and leaving a bare house.
  • To date the following amounts have been approved by the Town Council for tennis court upgrades:
  • Wooster Tennis & Pickleball Courts: Hinding Tennis, LLC proposal dated 7/14/2021 in the amount of $304,410 to transition the existing courts on asphalt into (1) tennis and (4) pickleball post tension concrete courts.
  • Short Beach Basketball & Tennis Courts: Hinding Tennis, LLC proposal dated 6/3/2021 in the amount of $450,000 to transition the existing courts on asphalt into (2) basketball and (2) tennis post tension concrete courts.
  • LED Lighting Upgrade & Associated Site Restoration $ 400,000.00
  • Bunnell Tennis Courts $ 40,000.00

Our Lady of Peace Church:  Three long-established silver maples in front of the Church needed to be removed due to damage sustained during Tropical Storm Isaias.  three new trees are planted at the Church grounds.

Don and Missy Kowalsky, of Stratford, complained that trees on their property pose no risk to the power lines overhead – but Eversource disagreed.  The couple’s property sits on a right-of-way for an Eversource transmission line, 26 trees were marked for removal, with 12 more trees for later.  They had lived in their house for over 30 years and said the area they’re looking at extends from Stratford Avenue (Rt. 130) south to Sikorsky Memorial Airport — essentially all of the South End, not including the Lordship enclave.

A tree-removal campaign in 2016 also didn’t sit well with many in town. They were aghast after seeing Huntington Road and Wilcoxson Avenue denuded of their leafy canopies.

“It has been my practice to deny UI’s removal of any tree that is healthy,” said Christina Senft-Batoh, the town’s previous conservation superintendent and its tree warden. “I deny or request modification for pruning that seems excessive.  She added that homeowners should be vigilant to object to any removals proposed by UI that they do not agree with.

“Even if the tree is a town tree, UI will contact the adjacent property owner for input,” Senft-Batoh said. “The homeowner can object to a removal outright, or request modification to a pruning.”

Kelly Kerrigan is the Town of Stratford current Environmental Conservation Superintendent and Tree Warden and, from personal experience has been receptive to those who contact her regarding tree removal or modification to a pruning.

Eversource, the power company that feeds most of Connecticut, said that it’s concerned about trees that have suffered in the drought years of 2016 and 2017, many of which threaten power lines if they came down.  “Sustained drought conditions in New England followed by above-average rainfall this year, combined with insect infestations, are having a devastating effect on trees,” said Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross. He added that the wet summer has made matters even worse — in their weakened state, their branches now have a heavy crop of leaves.  “Suffering from weakened root systems, these trees are now more susceptible to uprooting,” Gross said.

But walk down Elm Street, and you’ll find a successful objection to removing trees.  In 2016 the town had planned to remove many of the old growth Sycamore trees.  Hundreds of Elm Street residents turned out to protest the removal.  They remain to this day!!!!  Kudos to those dedicated and concerned residents – may they serve as an inspiration to all!!!

Trees “-A poem by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Click here to view the Longbrook Tennis Court Replacement Plan

Stratford Democrats Laugh Out Loud

As Only Fitting Response to Slew of Republican Press Releases

By Steve Taccognia
Chairman
Stratford Democratic Town Committee

As my counterpart on the Republican side so eloquently put it, “it’s that time of year”.  In the last 48 hours, there have been two press releases and I suspect at least one more is brewing while I write this.  In these rambling case studies for thinking before you speak, he simultaneously criticizes one Democratic candidate for not seeking a debate, while attacking a non-partisan organization for actually organizing one.

After criticizing a get-together at which no funds were raised, he calls into question the recording of those funds that didn’t happen.  The Republicans have filed frivolous SEEC complaints against the Democrats in the final run up to election day nearly every year since Lou Decilio has been Chair.

I appreciate the regularity and dedication to performance art that accompany these last gasps of a once relevant political party.  Frankly, from a partisan perspective, I could tee off on this nonsense all day.

Except throwing up distractions rather than solutions isn’t responsible, weak taunting isn’t going to help anyone, and the state in which they have left our town shouldn’t be a punchline.

So, let’s cover these points in one press release instead of three:

Although the Republicans decided not to face the public but rather to hide behind fabricated nonsense, the Democrats, understanding their responsibility and the value of transparency, remained willing to attend the usual debate run by the non-partisan League of Women Voters.  Unfortunately, without a second party, the event was cancelled.

Despite Mr. Decilio’s implications of wrongdoing, rather than a secretive meeting of party insiders and nefarious schemers, on August 15th, much of the DTC was attending a memorial service for a well-respected member of our community.  As a result, a planned fundraiser was canceled, but a handful of people still decided to get together at the end of a long day.  State filings for non-events have never been a requirement.

Strangely enough, there were some things not covered in the recent GOP releases:

Last week, Mayor Hoydick and an entourage of Town Hall insiders…including Mr. Decilio…attended a meeting of South End residents raising concerns about chronic flooding and offered solutions in the form of…flood insurance promotion.

If it feels like you’re suddenly seeing Hoydick signs everywhere, that’s probably because every vacant storefront, derelict property, and empty lot has been covered with them.  I imagine it’s like an artist signing their work.

Last but not least, after getting smacked down by the state, the GOP has been noticeably silent regarding Absentee Ballots after State GOP Chair, Trump Campaigner, and longtime Stratford Partisan Operative Ben Proto wrote his own nonsensical rant seeking to curtail your ability to vote.

So as fun as this is, as we come down to the end of another election cycle, let’s stop with the same old games, the same tired attacks, and the same ineffective leadership.  Let’s choose something better, Stratford.

Hate is Not a Mental Illness

by Orna Rawls
Marriage & Family Therapist, LMFT

In the weeks leading to Halloween and the election, a friend of mine spotted an effigy of one of the presidential candidates with a knife sticking out of his chest. It was adorning a front yard in a peaceful, bucolic Fairfield County town.

I don’t think it matters which candidate got the knife; what matters is that such a demonstration of blind hate sends a message legitimizing hate and violence to all who pass by and beyond.

Is hate a mental illness as many feel? The American Psychiatric Association concluded that hate is not a mental illness. People consumed by hate may be fearful, unhappy, resentful, chronically angry and/or ignorant. They tend to gravitate towards hate-mongering and racist leaders, but they are rarely mentally ill. Hate, however, with its cousin racism, is a social malaise.

Hate and racism are learned behaviors, best summed up in the lyrics from Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific musical:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

Since hate can be taught, it can and should be untaught. 2nd District Councilperson Kaitlyn Shake suggested the council pass a resolution regarding racism as a public health emergency. I’d add hate, hate-mongering and hate crimes to the resolution. And ideally tack on some programs to teach all ages about alternative emotions.

I’m no Rogers and Hammerstein, but here is my valiant attempt at rephrasing their lyrics:

You’ve got to be taught
To be thoughtful and kind,
You’ve got to be taught
Your neighbor to mind,
You’ve got to be taught,
From year to year,
With compassion and goodwill

The “otherness” to cheer.

 

Election Reflection: Pink is the New Blue?

by Rachel Rusnek

As we wait, with bated breath for the votes to be tallied and the results to roll in, there is some breathing room to analyze the minutiae in the results of the Nutmeg State. A long held Democratic fortress, a refuge for far-left liberal voters, at least how we are perceived on the National stage, election night brought few surprises in overall results. Former Vice President Biden handily won Connecticut’s 7 electoral votes in the presidential race, taking over 58% of all votes cast. What may come as surprise to some, are the bright red splotches in this little blue state.

As of this morning, in over 30 (relatively small) Connecticut towns the current White House occupant led the vote counts by margins in the double digits. Most of these small, rural (for Connecticut), working class towns are not chock full of those millionaires and billionaires, able to take advantage of Trump's lush tax cuts for those flush with cash. So, what is the impetus for Trumpian leanings? What do they see in Big Orange?  This question has plagued me, and no doubt many others, since the initial inauguration. (Remember how huge it was?) It’s not for lack of asking, I have.  I’m sure thousands had inquired, but I have yet to hear an answer besides people “are sick of politics as usual”. While Trump’s politics are certainly unusual, his shortcomings (to be kind), lack of decorum, and outright lies (never mind the racist, misogynistic, anti-science tendencies) lead me to struggle to understand how that makes him a viable candidate to so many. I would love to hear from those voters in New Fairfield (62% Trump), Oxford (60%), Prospect (64%), Wolcott (65%), Harwinton, Sterling, Watertown, Thomaston, Hartland, and Plymouth (all over 60%) and understand what makes them vote for Trump? Heck, even here in Stratford, 37% of voters went Orange. Methinks this is not just a result of the election’s close proximity to Halloween. Somehow, these voters must feel that their lives have gotten better over the last four years, or at least believe the promises that they will.

What am I missing?

Rosa DeLauro vs Margaret Streicker

Running for Congresswoman for Connecticut’s 3rd District

by Rachel Rusnek
Project Management at UConn Health

Rosa DeLauro, incumbent Congress woman for the 3rd District, covering central and coastal sections of Connecticut, is running this year to hold her seat against newcomer Margaret Streicker.

DeLauro, a long time New Haven native, boasts 30 years of political service in the district. Her legislative priorities, illustrated by her sponsored bills, have included health, labor and employment issues, agriculture and food safety, taxation, and government operations.

DeLauro has been an active representative for the district throughout her tenure, in fact between Jan 1991 to Oct 2020, DeLauro missed only 1.9% of the 19,021 roll call votes, which have occurred during her tenure, below the median of 2.3% among the lifetime records of representatives currently serving.

DeLauro is the current Co-Chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, and Chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee. Other issues identified as a part of her platform include national investment in education, health, and employment, oversight of food and drug safety, and support for working families. She supports raising the minimum wage, access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and equal pay for equal work.

Prior to her congressional service DeLauro worked as the first executive Director of Emily’s List, an organization devoted to increasing the number of women who serve in elected office. She also served as Chief of Staff to former Senator Dodd, and successfully directed the national campaign to end military aid to Nicaraguan Contras, a rebel group known for terrorist tactics and human rights violations. DeLauro has an MA in International Politics from Columbia, and a BA in History & Political Science from Marymount College. She also attended the London School of Economics.

The 2020 challenger, Margaret Streciker, (formerly Margaret Streicker Porres), is a real estate heiress and daughter of John H. Streicker, chairman of the Sentinel Real Estate Corporation, a large real estate company that manages over $5 billion in assets.

Streicker runs her own real estate holding companies, operating primarily in New York, and now Connecticut. She is most well known in New York and real estate circles for her former company, Newcastle Real Estate Services, which was embroiled in scandal in New York for continued violation of State statues and tenants’ rights until it was dissolved in January 2019. Top level employees of the former company including David Drumheller, the former head of operations, have been accused of participating in kickback schemes and price fixing to illegally deregulate apartments. Streicker currently operates Newcastle Connecticut as well as Fortitude Capital, which focuses on
properties outside of the Northeast.

Prior to her foray into campaigning, Streicker received her undergraduate degree from Princeton, where she is a noted donor. She completed master’s degrees in architecture and Real Estate Development at Columbia. Streciker formerly taught at Columbia as an adjunct assistant professor in the Graduate School of Architecture, where she taught residential and assets strategy courses as recently as Fall 2019.

Streicker has identified healthcare, seniors, taxes, and job creation as primary her primary focus. She has also invested heavily in her own campaign, funneling $1.6 million of her own money into its coffers, $1.15 million of which was transferred just this month.

Extra, Extra! CAN’T Read All About it

by James Simon
Candidate for Registrar of Voters

In the past, Stratford politicians had to worry about their mistakes and scandals being exposed by The Connecticut Post, The Stratford Star, even The Stratford Bard (for those of you who go back to the 1970s as I do). Today, the Stratford mayor and Town Council operate largely in the dark, without the spotlight of a lot of press coverage. And we Stratford residents pay the price.

We are not alone. “Thousands of local newspapers have closed in recent years,” the Brookings Institute said in a report on “news deserts” last November. “Their disappearance has left millions of Americans without a vital source of local news and deprived communities of an institution essential for exposing wrongdoing and encouraging civic engagement. Of those still surviving, many have laid off reporters, reduced coverage, and pulled back circulation. “Over 65 million Americans live in counties with only one local newspaper—or none at all,” the report said.
News organizations are having trouble surviving in this digital age when Internet users expect their content to be free. The Post has a terrific reporter assigned to Stratford in Ethan Fry.  (Disclaimer: Ethan was a student of mine at Fairfield University). But the newspaper, trying to survive, has put many of his stories behind a paywall called CtInsider; you must pay a fee to access these stories, in print or online.

It is a tough choice for The Post. Should it make its stories available for free on the Internet, allowing Facebook to steal them, or charge a token fee for stories in hopes of generating a revenue stream. The next time you take one of The Post stories and post it online, you should recognize you are stealing the Post’s content, its intellectual property that it paid to collect, and giving it away for free, making it even harder for The Post to survive.

Meanwhile, The Patch provides free, online coverage, supported by online ads. But while its Stratford reporter, Anna Bybee-Schier, does a good job in covering events, she must juggle many other duties and does not have the time to look behind the scenes of what is happening in Stratford.

When it comes to broadcast news coverage, Channel 8 is rarely in town, and Cablevision Channel 12 is now located on Long Island and does little more than occasionally send a cameraman to get some Stratford footage for the anchor to read over.

The problem becomes more acute when one political party controls both the mayor’s office and the Town Council, as the Republican party currently does. The lack of news coverage works to the advantage of the Republicans; I was not surprised when they eliminated funding for the twice-a-year Stratford Calendar newsletter that was delivered to homes. That publication did not contain news stories, but it provided some social glue for Stratford by providing information on town agencies and groups like Sterling House that interact with the public.

Again, the party in power is often better off with as little coverage as possible. There are some who argue The Stratford Star went under because town politicians pulled the required town advertising that helped the paper survive financially.

Reporters also depend on the opposition party to highlight problems and shortcomings in local government. The GOP dominance has been so great that Democrats have had trouble in being heard when they challenge Republican policies that prevent members of the public from engaging with council members at council meetings.

There are thousands of Stratford residents interested in town politics. Given the lack of options, many have gravitated to the two dozen free Facebook groups, most of which have a clear angle, bias, or orientation that makes them an unreliable source of information. Other town residents get their information by signing up for the Mayor’s weekly e-mail blasts; like all public relations efforts, you should not expect an even-handed presentation of information.

Without the spotlight of press coverage, I am always impressed when townspeople can band together and use Internet petitions and similar techniques to get politicians to slow down and listen to the people. In Stratford, we saw it recently when the mayor’s office withdrew its proposed $1-a-year giveaway to a developer of the former Center School property. We also saw it when the developers of land across from Christ Church were forced to slow down and take into consideration the protection of the landmark house on that site.

Into this breach comes The Stratford Crier. It promises to be an independent source of analysis and information on town issues, putting a spotlight on municipal government and providing the adversarial relationship that the press and government should entertain. I believe very much in the libertarian theory that if there are numerous voices, the truth is more likely to emerge. Stratford could use more such voices.

(Eds note: Dr. James Simon was a political reporter with The Associated Press for 10 years.
After spending 25 years as a college journalism professor and as a dean, mostly at Fairfield
University, he won the Democratic primary for Registrar of Voters in August 2020 and will be
on the town-wide ballot this November.)