Action is needed to protect trees in our very own state! We need to stop companies like LAMAR not only littering our landscapes but destroying our trees to achieve their goals. Send letters of support to Blumenthal and please visit www.scenic.org to send a letter to Jodi Rell stating your support of her bill to ban new billboard contracts in CT, including digital billboards.
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BY ROBYN ADAMS REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
WATERBURY-- Nancy Voghel grew up on a "little piece of heaven," but she said Friday that the land near her childhood home has been destroyed.
Last year, Lamar Advertising of Hartford got a permit from the state Department of Transportation to trim and remove undesirable growth on state land off Sidney Street to increase the visibility of one of its billboards.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a lawsuit against the billboard company and Long Hill Tree and Lawn Care Services of East Hartford for cutting down 83 trees that included birch, maple, oak and white pine that were between 85 and 200 years old. Long Hill Tree was hired by Lamar to do the work.
Hal Kilshaw, vice president of governmental relations for Lamar, headquartered in Baton Rouge, La., said the attorney general got it wrong.
"We got permission from the landowner and a permit from the state. We hired Long Hill and met with the state's landscape person, who was on site and agreed to everything that was cut," Kilshaw said in a telephone interview.
Many of the trees that were planted on the land in question were planted by Margaret Casey's grandfather.
"In less than one day, less than an hour, Lamar Advertising came in and changed our lifestyle," said Casey, of 56 Sidney St. "The noise -- we cannot open the windows anymore. We cannot hear the television because of the noise. It is unbearable."
The trees provided a buffer to highway traffic and noise, and soaked up water that spilled down the hilly terrain.
"Last year, I had five feet of water in my basement," said Jerod Voghel, 30, who is Karen Voghel's son. He bought the house that his mother grew up in four years ago; she now lives in Wolcott.
With the open swath of land in the background, Blumenthal and Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-75th District, talked to residents about the lawsuit.
Blumenthal said Lamar "clearly and disgracefully broke the law" by cutting 83 trees that provided a buffer to I-84. The state is suing for unspecified monetary damages to replace the trees.
Residents brought the problem to the attention of Noujaim, whose district covers the East End of Waterbury.
"The area looked like it had been hit by a tornado," Noujaim said. "The trees were cut down mercilessly, and branches and stumps were left on the ground."
Noujaim said the tree company then turned around and sold the wood.
Nancy Voghel said the house where she grew up was enhanced by the tall trees, birds and wildlife. "It was a little piece of heaven," she said.
Noujaim said he wants the billboard company to purchase 40-foot tall trees to plant on the land. Blumenthal said Lamar won't be doing the work.
"We are not going to trust them to do the restoration," Blumenthal said. "We will make them pay and have someone else restore the trees."
Kilshaw said his company tried to come to a resolution and offered money to the state. "We repeatedly tried to get them to talk, come to a friendly resolution and they won't meet with us. Even though they filed the lawsuit, we still are trying to resolve this."