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Connecticut governor to replant more than 180 trees, thousands of bushes cut down behind his house

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday was officially ordered by his local inland wetlands agency to replant more than 180 trees and thousands of shrubs that were cut down in November on the property behind the Democrat’s Greenwich home.

While one of Lamont’s neighbors and a neighborhood group were also involved in cutting down protected wetlands and property they don’t own, the wealthy governor has agreed to foot the entire bill for the landscaping project to replace the vegetation, his attorney said.

“He made it clear some time ago that he would bear the full cost of this,” attorney Thomas J. Heagney told The Associated Press after Thursday’s meeting of the Greenwich Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency.

Heagney blamed the illegal felling of the trees, which the agency director described as “clear-cutting” in one of the three affected parcels, on a miscommunication between Lamont and the landscaping company he hired.

“It was really a matter of the governor giving general directions to the landscaper and the landscaper doing just a little bit more than expected,” Heagney said.

Lamont has been accused of removing the trees to get a better view of a pond, an accusation he has denied. The governor has said the plan was to clear trees damaged by previous storms.

Lamont and the neighbors were served a cease-and-desist order in November after a manager of a plot of land where trees were being felled heard the sound of chainsaws. The manager said the work went “well beyond the destruction of vegetation in the marsh,” according to documents posted by the Greenwich Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency.

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Fred Jacobsen, director of the land owned by INCT LLC, a land formerly owned by the Rockefeller family, said it appeared the “massive logging operation” had been going on for several days and that he saw more than 10 workers cutting down and clearing trees and brush. Access to the site was through land owned by Lamont’s neighbor, wealthy businessman Alexander Vik and his wife Carrie, according to wetlands commission minutes.

Jacobsen told the committee shortly after the incident: “Those involved knew they would never be allowed to do this if they applied for a permit, so they did it anyway.”

Since then, multiple public hearings and site visits have been held to determine the extent of the damage and what needs to be done next to restore the coveted forests in one of the nation’s wealthiest communities. There has been detailed discussion about exactly how many trees have been cut down and the required width of replacements to ensure that mature trees are planted.

On Thursday, Beth Evans, the local agency’s director, presented her recommendations, which in some cases doubled the number of trees and shrubs to be planted that Lamont’s landscape architecture team had originally proposed. In some cases, she advocated for a greater variety of plantings, suggesting specific types of trees and shrubs such as sugar maples, dogwood and witch hazel.

“This property was bare, with virtually all of the brush and trees removed,” Evans said of one of the lots. “And what was left was essentially bare ground at the time of the trespass last November.”

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Lamont’s team also must come up with plans to control invasive plants and preserve the new trees and shrubs for years to come. There was also discussion about installing fencing in some areas to prevent hungry deer from eating the newly planted vegetation.

Heagney said Lamont is prepared to adhere to the director’s recommended replanting orders for the three parcels, which were unanimously approved by the Wetlands Council on Thursday.

“The wetlands director looked at what she thought would be necessary to restore the area,” Heagney said. “And while, as I said at the hearing, we thought it was a little bit more than what was necessary because we thought the plan we submitted was sufficient, we can certainly work with that.”

Heagney said he does not yet have a cost estimate for the project or a timetable for when work will begin.

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