Cash-Strapped Hartford Cut Tree Trimming Crew Years Ago

An 11-year-old boy was hospitalized after being hit by a falling tree in Hartford’s Goodwin Park Tuesday, and the accident has led to questions about the city’s response to decaying trees tagged to come down.

“We knew that they were unhealthy trees and unhealthy enough that they ought to come down,” said Jack Hale, chairman of Hartford’s Tree Advisory Commission.

But Hale stopped short of saying Tuesday’s accident at Goodwin Park could have been prevented.

“I’m not gonna say that. Who knows whether that particular tree would have been taken down soon enough to avoid it,” said Hale.

Still, Hale said the loss of the city’s full-time forestry crew, which was laid off by the city’s previous administration, is bogging down the process to take down decaying trees. Now, the work is done with contractors on an as-needed basis.

“The fact is we need people all the time,” said Hale.

Under city ordinance there is a 10-day waiting period to allow for public input about the removal of a particular tree. After that, there’s a fairly lengthy process to bring that tree down. First a work order is created. A purchase order is produced. A contractor is chosen and then that contractor has to schedule the work.

“You’ve still have at least a month to go through all that,” said Hale.

That was just too much time for the tree that fell toward a group of children playing basketball Tuesday. While it was tagged for eventual removal it was not believed to be in imminent danger of falling.

The Hartford mayor’s office told NBC Connecticut that cost had no bearing on the tree’s removal. A spokesperson said because the decay was on the inside it wasn’t tagged as an immediate threat as that threat was not apparent from the outside.

“I was so shocked,” said Marisela Valez of Hartford.

Velez often takes her granddaughter to the park. Zerenity Seda said she likes climbing the trees. Now, grandma is encouraging her to play elsewhere.

“The kids are so special to us that we need to take care of them,” said Velez.

As the pair sat in the park, the sound of chainsaws buzzed nearby.

Since the accident, crews have been busy removing tagged trees. The city says there’s no wait for trees that pose an immediate threat and in fact the city removed 10 trees prior to the accident without going through the lengthy approval process.

The spokesperson went on to say that the city will continue the previous administration’s policy of using contractors on an as-needed basis given the city’s resources.

So far, 230 trees have been tagged for immediate take-down at a cost of $100,000 or more from the city coffers, according to the spokesperson.

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