At least 40 trees, many believed to be 100 years old or older are gone, exposing what was once a secluded neighborhood and raising questions as to how this could happen.
“Miscommunication” is being labeled at the root of the problem resulting from the Warwick Sewer Authority’s efforts to find a staging area for materials and equipment for Phase 3 of Gov. Francis Farms sewers. That project, being built by CB Utility of Bristol, is slated to start next week, with most of the work being completed in a year.
“We did stop the project. There’s no more activity,” Janine Burke-Wells, WSA executive director said yesterday.
She said WSA is looking for alternative staging areas and that it is the authority’s intention that the area, which appears to be more than an acre, be restored as best as possible, including the planting of mature trees.
Burke-Wells said the authority is “very sensitive” to the removal of trees and that this situation points to the need to develop sign-off sheets for the work to be done. Further, she said the authority strives to alert residents within an area of construction when work will take place and what they can expect.
Letters have been sent to those within the Phase 3 project, but because the selected staging area was outside of the project, residents at that end of Landsdowne Road were not notified. Burke-Wells said the authority prides itself in notifying people, “but obviously that didn’t happen.”
Located on the north end of Landsdowne Road, a dead end, the site is part of the John Brown Francis School property.
The clearing that was done by a contractor started Thursday and continued Friday. Maury Ryan, who recently moved into the home across the street, immediately inquired of the crew what was happening. He said he was told it was going to be a playground.
Ryan’s neighbor, Tom Wisniewski, a 22-year resident of the area, dug deeper.
He called the mayor’s office, the school department and the sewer authority. In an email from Steven Gothberg, school director of buildings and grounds, he learned that “in the spirit of cooperation with other city departments” schools granted the WSA use of the land. In his correspondence he acknowledged that the school department was aware there was to be some clearing and was told that the area was to be restored.
While she has not visited the site, Bethany Furtado, chair of the Warwick School Committee, said Monday she was aware of the situation and that the department took somebody on their word but it didn’t work out that way.
Landsdowne residents also alerted Ward 1 Councilman Richard Corley and School Committee member Eugene Nadeau. Corley said he made a flurry of calls last week but couldn’t get a straight answer as to who was responsible for signing the contract to have the trees removed.
“It’s a mess,” he said.
“It was a nice quiet street that was isolated,” he said, “and now they look up to Warwick Avenue.”
Nadeau was fuming when he learned of the trees. He was incredulous that the school administration would allow the removal of the trees, calling the incident a “fiasco.”
Reached by email Wednesday morning, Mayor Scott Avedisian replied, “I don't know what the story is and I don't know how it would work. It is apparently a decision made between the Sewer Authority and the superintendent that I was not part of.”
Wisniewski said that during an earlier phase of Governor Francis Farms sewer construction, land across the street had been used as a staging area. In that case, he said, contractors cut an access road but there was no wholesale removal of trees. He said the area was cleaned up and allowed to return to its natural condition once the job was completed.
“Those trees aren’t brambles and bushes,” he said of what was removed from the site.
With the closing of John Brown Francis School, which is to be re-purposed as an early childhood development center at a later time, Wisniewski questioned whether the school parking lot could be used or even a portion of the parking lot behind Planet Fitness on Warwick Avenue. What he hopes for is abandonment of the area as a staging site and an immediate effort to restore it.
Burke-Wells is looking to do just that.
Given what’s happened, and without pointing fingers as to how the ball was dropped, she said of the residents, “I can’t blame them for flipping out.”