New Milford stalls tree removal as it reworks bidding process

Photo of Katrina Koerting

NEW MILFORD — For the second time in a year, trees tagged for removal have remained standing and the town is exploring a new process for taking them down.

More than 50 trees had been tagged as unhealthy before the town halted its removal efforts at the end of December to rework the bidding process, leaving the bulk of those still standing.

Last year, the town’s tree warden resigned after engaging in a public argument with former Mayor David Gronbach over the tree removal process and its cost. Soon after, the Gronbach administration switched from a local bidding process to a reliance on state-approved vendors.

But Mayor Pete Bass said that resulted in a $25,000 bill to remove about 10 trees during his first month in office, which he said was too high.

“The trees haven’t been chopped down because I’m not going to spend an abhorrent amount of money on the trees,” he said during Monday’s council meeting.

Instead, the mayor, tree warden, deputy tree warden and members of the Department of Public Works have been working to create a new process that Bass said will be fair to taxpayers but also be worth the effort for local companies.

He expects that to be done by the end of the week.

Both he and tree warden Joe Quaranta said trees were being removed on an emergency basis in the meantime.

It was a delay in taking tagged trees down that prompted former tree warden Carlos Caridad last year to warn the council that those trees still standing were creating a liability for the town.

Gronbach had previously criticized the company the town hired to remove the trees in 2015, saying they had overcharged the town. He then awarded the 2016 contract to the second-lowest bidder.

Caridad defended the company and argued the bid is an estimate and more tree work was needed than expected in 2015.

Quaranta suggested during Monday’s meeting that the town restructure the organizational piece of tree removal, giving more power to the tree warden to speed up the process.

Currently, the tree warden marks the trees and then it goes to public works, which submits the bid and goes through “an exorbitant amount of steps,” he said.

If the tree warden assumed the work, he could reach out to an approved vendor and have the tree removed in 10 days, compared to the months it takes now, Quaranta said.

This is the opposite of what the council approved in its recent budget adoption where Councilman Paul Szymanski proposed eliminating the tree warden position and moving all of the work to public works.

According to state statue, tree wardens are responsible for the care and control of the trees.

“If you insist care and control of the trees falls on the tree warden then you should empower them to do so from start to finish,” Quaranta said. “I think that will alleviate some of our problems.”; 203-731-3345