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Greer Cowan

Only stumps remain where a grove of trees once stood.

Voices / Viewpoint

Unfathomable decision

AOT removes a beautiful grove of trees from the roadside, exposing Brattleboro residents’ backyards to the Interstate

Rick Cowan serves as the board chair of the Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association, a local conservation organization.


Driving from Vermont on Interstate 91 to other southern New England states, one notices that fewer homes down there are shielded from road noise and pollution by trees. The highway verges tend to be clear cut.

In recent years, this absence of trees has prompted Connecticut and Massachusetts to erect pricey and unattractive walls of wood or masonry to do some of what the trees used to do.

Sadly, our local transportation officials are doing all they can to make our highways look and sound like those to the south.

The folks in charge of Vermont Agency of Transportation’s District 2 recently made the unfathomable decision to completely destroy a beautiful grove of trees on the east side of I-91 in Brattleboro.

When asked why she ordered the destruction of the grove, Tammy Ellis, senior manager at the AOT, explained that a tree limb had fallen on private property. One wonders if she would have removed every tree on her property if a branch fell near her home. The phrase “throwing the baby out with the bath water” comes to mind.

* * *

After reading of this senseless destruction in the Reformer, my daughter and I drove over to the affected neighborhood.

We met resident Hollie Landfried as she was walking her dog along Winter Street.

“It used to be a lovely wall of green,” she said, pointing up at the denuded area where dozens of trees used to stand. “Now we’re exposed to noise, wind, and the sight of traffic.”

“I could understand why they might take down a couple of trees that were rotten, but there was no need to remove them all,” she added.

With the grove gone, folks in the neighborhood must contend with greatly increased traffic noise as well as visual pollution of watching traffic once shielded by trees.

And those who drive by view abutters’ homes and backyards instead of the beautiful trees that once stood there.

* * *

Now that their chainsaws and excavators have destroyed what took 70 or more years to grow, VTrans has no intention of planting anything to replace the trees they destroyed.

Along with those trees, my own sense of Vermont’s exceptionalism disappeared.

Those in charge of our highways apparently have no more sense of how to protect our fragile environment than their counterparts elsewhere.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #435 (Wednesday, November 22, 2017). This story appeared on page F3.

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