Baron’s South Fill: The Sequel

On Monday, “06880” posted a story about Baron’s South. Reader Morley Boyd had written — and sent photos — describing construction material from the recent Senior Center modernization project that had been dumped in the southwest meadow. He said that demolition debris was mixed with the fill; that there was evidence of soil erosion, and that mature trees had been removed from the site.

Yesterday, another concerned reader sent an update. This reader noted that the Baron — Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria, who founded Evyan Perfumes in the 1930s, bought the estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983 — had planted and nurtured diverse species of trees on his 32-acre wooded, hilly property, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.

Among the “legacy trees’ was a Hinoki False Cypress. It grew robustly and beautifully in a protected valley.

It was judged the state’s #1 Golden Hinoki False Cypress, on a list of Notable Trees compiled by the Connecticut College Arboretum. It was not located where the construction occurred.

Tree warden Bruce Lindsay and Planning & Zoning Commission member Al Gratrix went to great lengths to ensure that the tree — which had been designated for relocation — would be given special attention by the contractor, so it could thrive.

The Hinoki was replanted at the crest of a hill, bordering the Fairfield County Bank parking lot. The “06880” reader who visited yesterday reports that the tree is brown, dry and dead.

After replanting, the Golden Hinoki False Cyprus appears dead. This photo was taken yesterday.

Not far away, the reader says, there is plenty of construction debris in the fill.

The runoff appears headed toward Deadman’s Brook, and the Saugatuck River.

26 responses to “Baron’s South Fill: The Sequel

  1. Jonathan McClure

    Without having a full, complete and honest explanation from our officials, it’s premature to begin pointing fingers. However, the Town and contractor both need to address the concerns expressed here and, if needed, be required to take all necessary measures to remove debris and restore the landscape. I’m disappointed, at least as it appears now, that the lying and misdirection that has taken hold in Washington, DC has spread to our local government as well. Some honest and sincere introspection is needed. Step up and take responsibility!

  2. Heartbreaking. This was one of my favorite trees.

    Meanwhile, the Building Official was quoted in the Westport News yesterday as saying that the surface of the dump site has been broomed of “metal” – as if all the contamination is somehow only on the surface.

    I stopped by the dump last night and all the asphalt, plastic, asbestos, toilet fragments, jagged metal, rubber, concrete and brick was still there.

    What’s the point misleading the public? Instead of trying to cover up what was plainly a misjudgement, why not just commit to making it right?

    • How about pointing fingers at a town that WONT GIVE A FULL, COMPLETE AND HONEST EXPLANATION!

  3. John F Suggs

    The P&Z Commission has enforcement authority for individuals and contractors who violate Section 32-8 “Excavation and Filling of Land”. A duly elected P&Z Commissioner has already stipulated that what happened here was not authorized or permitted. So why isn’t the P&Z Commission not enforcing this illegal action? Why is the RTM P&Z Cmt Chair, Matt Mandell not holding public hearings? Or any other RTM Cmt Chair? Why isn’t 1st Selectman Marpe addressing the Town? And, as the top town official, why isn’t he publicly acknowledging the truth: that the “buck stops with him”? Why did this happen in the first place but even more worrisome why are our town leaders silent – other than that one single P&Z Commissioner Cathy Walsh? Where are our elected officials? Your silence is deafening!

    • Matthew Mandell

      Always nice to be called out by name. Since this issue broke, I have been in communications with Mr. Boyd, Ms Fava and members of P&Z and I continue to monitor the situation as it progresses. I have now also spoken with Mr. Suggs. Since a formal complaint was filed with P&Z, that needs to go through its motions as well. I have yet to speak with Ms. Young as both of us were tied up with the Hiawatha 8-30g, which thankfully closed last night.

      To think the RTM P&Z could already have held meetings on this is unrealistic. The wording should have been, we implore Mr. Mandell and the RTM P&Z to look into this in their purview of oversight of P&Z.

      The RTM P&Z will actually be meeting on Monday night with already 3 agenda items. In discussion with Mr. Suggs it was decided not to add this as the fourth as it might be too late in the evening to have it be effective.

      In the meantime, the gathering of information is key to see what happened and what can be done to remedy the situation. If a mistake was made then it needs to be corrected. Let’s all take a breath and figure it out.

      • Thanks for your leadership, Matt. You have a long history of standing up for the environment. I regret that its come to this but, as the direct representatives of the people who actually own this park, the RTM is best suited to exercise oversight where it’s needed. Let’s clear the air, address the potential public safety and contamination concerns and then work out a sensible plan to move forward. And let’s be sure that plan does not include moving this glop to Riverside Park as has been rumored.

  4. Bart Shuldman

    If a Tree Warden is involved in killing an important tree to the residents of Westport-maybe it shows his lack of value to Westport. But is anyone ever held accountable? Just saying. Why do we pay for a tree warden?

    Bart Shuldman

    • Bob Stalling

      How is a Tree Warden involved in the killing a tree when you don’t know the cause of death of the tree?
      This should be good…

    • Bart, the story noted: “Tree warden Bruce Lindsay and Planning & Zoning Commission member Al Gratrix went to great lengths to ensure that the tree — which had been designated for relocation — would be given special attention by the contractor, so it could thrive.”

      • Bart Shuldman

        Dan-did it thrive or did it die? Are you saying the contractor killed the tree? Did the tree warden take any responsibility for the move and the eventual death of the tree? Or did the tree warden just walk away from the project began?

        Just thought I should ask.

        • Bart, the tree warden works for Public Works. He is only a consultant for any other Town Hall department. He cannot do any followup — including enforcement — unless another town body asks him to. He can only advise and provide guidelines.

          The tree warden and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission worked hard to set outlines and ground rules for this. The contractor appears to have ignored directions and regulations.

          • Bart Shuldman

            Dan-thank you. I have just learned that the tree warden and Al Gratix worked hard to try to ensure the trees would be moved and cared for. Parks and Rec was responsible from what I learned and they dropped the ball.

            I send my apology to the Tree Warden and Al while also raising a serious concern regarding Parks and Rec and their clear mismanagement and killing of this most important tree. Pros and Rec caused this issue and there needs to be a review and understanding of why.

            • Dermot Meuchner

              I called the tree warden and got a response of “ well I have to look at the budget “. Never came to look at the tree which is on town property but it’s in front of my house hanging over wires and a transformer. Why even have a tree warden?

        • Bob Stalling

          Bart, I have a few questions:
          Did the tree die from transplant shock?
          Were they able to get a good root ball…or was there ledge or rocks in the way?
          Was it over watered? Was it under watered?
          Was their good drainage?
          Did last years excessive rain play a part?
          Winter damage?
          What time of year was it moved?
          What was the PH of the soil?
          How about the cation exchange capacity?
          Micro and macro nutrients?
          Was there a girdling root?
          Did it settle after planting?
          Was it stressed and attacked by a secondary invader such as borers?
          Scale insects?
          Kabatina Blight?
          Just curious which one of these the was the fault of the tree warden….we need to get to the bottom of this.

      • Dan, the moving of a mature tree is a death knell and the tree warden damned well should have known that.

        • Bob Stalling

          Dan Katz,
          Where are you getting your death knell info?
          Does this same info tell us what percent of mature trees (that are moved) die…by species, diameter of tree, size of root ball and time of year moved?
          I want a copy.

  5. Apparently there is always a big risk in moving trees. A few years ago, “Maggie”, a celebrated magnolia tree at Barnard College in New York was moved but a few yards to allow construction of the new student center. Despite all of the care and attention lavished on Maggie, she did not survive. Moving trees is risky.

    • Bob Stalling

      The bigger the tree…the riskier it is.
      A good root ball and proper time of year are key, but there are many other factors that come into play.

  6. Going back in time, I had an office on the second floor of the old Westport National Bank Building, overlooking the Senior Center site when it was first built on Baron’s South. It broke my heart to see a clearcut logging operation as you might see in Oregon felling at least 40 old growth trees on the western edge of the property. Naturally little of the space was used except for the most undesirable parking. Contractors just need to have that blank canvas, I guess, without any real planning about what might actually be in the way. Given that experience, whoever was responsible for that old rare tree is no surprise. I point no fingers except to the attitude.

    • Bob Stalling

      Were the “old growth” trees in the way of construction?
      What type of trees? Evergreens, deciduous? Slow growing, fast growing? Deep or shallow rooted? It makes a difference…some trees more susceptible to wind and snow damage. Norway Maple are considered an invasive species…
      Were they decayed? Diseased? Any structural deficiencies? Splitting? Cracks? Cankers? Were they hazardous? Were the roots compromised or going to be compromised?
      Or was it attitude?

    • I wanted to bring up the logging but decided against it. I’m glad you did.

  7. A different question. A tree may appear to be dead, but possibly not. Besides all the conversation, is someone from Parks & Rec. checking on the tree now to verify its condition, to see if the tree or parts of it can yet be saved.

    • After reading its mission statement, I can see that it would be appropriate for the Tree Board to get involved, on an advisory basis, in this particular issue.
      How about it Tree Board?

  8. Russ Fortier

    Westport seems to love accepting praise for its green efforts but has turned a blind eye to this degrading of the precious Barons South property & even denying what’s happened? This is very disheartening.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Some of us fought to keep Baron South open land and away from being a condo complex. Follow the history. Gordon wanted his name on a building. :):)

      Bart Shuldman

    • Jack Whittle

      As one who (with others) fought to keep Baron’s South open space for the Town to enjoy in its beautiful, natural state (and took some heat from all sides for that) this is disheartening indeed. I do have a good degree of hope and expectation that Jim Marpe will see to it that this wrong is put right.