George Bennett of Shelton insists he doesn’t want to sue the city where he lives, but he might just have to do that to be made whole.
“Unfortunately, they’re pushing me into that situation,” Bennett said.
On the morning of Jan. 25, a Shelton public works crew showed up on his Elliott Drive property and proceeded to trim 14 hemlock trees with a pole-mounted chainsaw along his border with Big Horn Road.
“They literally butchered them,” is how Bennett described what happened in the course of about 15 minutes.
No advance notice was given, which Bennett said violates a city ordinance. He and city officials appear to agree that the hemlocks were not a road obstruction.
Had been planted 30 years ago
The trees, planted by the Bennetts 30 years earlier, had provided privacy in their back yard. He said neighbors often complimented them on how the trees beautified their yard.
“What took me 30 years to grow, took them 15 minutes to destroy,” he said.
After eight months of trying to have the problem rectified, Bennett has finally consulted with an attorney and may file a lawsuit.
City officials do not dispute the trimming job left a lot to be desired. In fact, their language is just as direct as the words used by Bennett to describe what happened.
City official: Job was ‘travesty’ and ‘screw-up’
At a June 3 aldermanic committee meeting on the situation, city Public Works Director Paul DiMauro agreed what took place was “a hack job.” He also described it as “a travesty” and “screw-up.”
“It is very unfortunate; I am embarrassed that they did it,” DiMauro said at the Street Committee meeting.
“I can never excuse what was done,” he also said.
Even Mayor Mark Lauretti is not defending what was done to the hemlock trees on the Bennett property.
“I don’t think the city handled it correctly,” Lauretti said during an interview last week. “Our workmanship was poor. We could have done a better job.”
According to Bennett, Lauretti had told him it was “a hack job” after the incident and that city workers needed to be better trained in proper trimming techniques.
Personal visits made to the property
Lauretti, DiMauro, some aldermen and a city-recommended landscape architect have visited the Bennett property personally to look at what was done and talk to Bennett.
Bennett wants the city to take out the hemlocks and plant 14 new trees of eight to 10 feet in height.
The city at various times has suggested planting smaller pine trees between the hemlocks, building an earthen berm with flowers, planting ornamental trees with a fence, or creating a hedge line.
Bennett doesn’t find those ideas acceptable. “I want proper remediation — remove the stumps and plant new trees,” he said.
He said landscaping quotes put that cost at $12,000 to $14,000, but he is being offered only $2,000 by the city’s insurance carrier at this time.
‘I can’t justify it’
Lauretti said something should be done to correct the problem. While he appreciates the Bennetts’ efforts to maintain their property, he said, “Where we part company is the degree of severity or lack of severity of the damage.
“He’s asking for too much money,” Lauretti continued. “I can’t justify it. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything.”
Alderman Jack Finn said because an insurance claim has been filed, that process needs to move forward for now. “We have to wait and see what happens,” he said.
Finn said he’s spoken to the insurance adjuster and the city’s corporation counsel about the situation.
Finding ‘a reasonable solution’
The city also should continue to work with the Bennetts to try to find a way to resolve the issue, he said. “After all, city officials admitted on the record at a public meeting that they did ‘hack’ his trees,” Finn noted.
Alderman Eric McPherson, Street Committee chairman, said the matter now is being handled as an insurance claim. “We hope to do it that way and to have a reasonable solution that is acceptable,” McPherson said of that approach.
Being responsible for its actions
Bennett, however, is unhappy with how the insurance agency is handling the situation so far. He said the city is showing “a lack of integrity” by not owning up to the situation, despite admitting it had made a mistake.
“I was raised to be responsible for my actions,” Bennett said. “Why won’t the city put up the money to rectify what it did? I feel I’m being used and abused by the city.”
“We are looking to be whole again, nothing more and nothing less,” Bennett had told the Street Committee.