Van Orden Road residents request township to replace maple trees

West Milford. The need to fix a drainage problem and taking down six maple trees as part of the solution collided during the last Township Council meeting.


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  • What's left of a red maple tree recently cut down on Van Orden Road with one of the current maple trees behind it.




  • The remains of the six red maples recently cut down on Van Orden Road. Garrett Hemmerich photos




Residents of Van Orden Road appeared at the Township Council meeting on June 12 to request that the town replace six red maple trees it recently removed from the street in order to fix a drainage problem.

“(The trees) created a beautiful red ribbon that is simply breathtaking upon the entrance onto our road,” Van Orden Road resident Inga Keoppe said at the meeting.

The trees were removed while the town was addressing the road’s longtime drainage issues and residents are requesting that they be replaced once the drainage work is complete.

According to Keoppe, the road becomes a “swamp” during heavy rains, making it impossible for children to walk to and from their bus stop on Union Valley Road.

This past March, Keoppe’s husband, Jack, wrote a letter to the township requesting that the drainage problem be addressed, so when the crane was delivered recently and work was to begin, there was a sense of relief among residents.

“Unfortunately, this was the calm before the storm,” Keoppe said.

When Keoppe returned home the day the work began to see that six trees had been cut down, she became concerned.

Neighbors informed her of plans to remove 10 more trees, totaling half of the 32 lining the street, so Keoppe called the town’s Supervising Engineering Aide Eric Miller.

“What baffled me more than anything during our conversation was the lack of empathy for what our trees represented to us who lived on the road,” Keoppe said.

She was told that the trees were unnatural and the road would return to its natural state as it was before they were planted, according to Keoppe.

”My response was it needed to stop and be discussed and we have to find a solution to the damage that has been done,” said Keoppe.

Keoppe credited Mayor Michele Dale and another Van Orden Road resident with intervening to stop the work.

”It’s a sin,” said Paul Sova, another of the road’s residents. “I came back (at 3 p.m.) in the afternoon and everything’s down, just like that.”

Keoppe also cited “an immense lack of communication on the project.”

According to her, no one received any notification until the second day of work, when a notice of construction was placed in their mailboxes with no mention of exactly how many trees were to be removed.

Sova’s wife, Roz Sova, believes that if the notifications had been sent it out ahead of time, then she and her neighbors would have put a stop to the work before it began.

“Our request is to please, please, please save the remaining trees along the road and stop the removal to anymore,” Keoppe pleaded with the council. “And approve the replanting of trees and fix the damage that has to be done.”

Budget consultant and Council Administrator, Bob Casey, stressed to residents at the meeting that if the drainage work stops, then the resulting problems will persist.

“The proposal was to install a drain within the right of way on a side of the street where the trees are because there is a gas main on the other side,” he said.

According to Casey, the trees were removed because they were in the way from a construction standpoint.

The trees were donated by a wealthy farmer in the early 1990s and were planted too close to the street, officials said.

Miller, the supervising engineering aide, apologized to residents for the lack of communication about the project, but also reminded them that the ultimate plan to fix the road’s drainage issues would require the removal of nearly all the red maple trees.

According to Miller, there’s a dip in the road that’s ultimately causing the drainage problems and the trees must be removed to address it.

He also said the trees would ultimately need to be removed when the road is repaved because the equipment could not fit given its narrow width with the trees there.

”I would like to limit the drainage to the area that’s already been disturbed,” said Phil Reeve, another Van Orden Road resident who spoke at the meeting. Reeve said he holds a wastewater collection system license (C-License) and runs the North Hudson Sewerage Authority’s Wastewater System.

“It’s 190,000 people, 4,500 catch basins, over 100 miles of pipe,” said Reeve. “I’ve been doing this for over 40 years.”

According to Reeve, he has an alternate plan to address the drainage problems without disturbing any more trees, but he’s unsure of how they’re proceeding moving forward.

The road’s residents have gotten together to start a petition for the cause.

Mayor Dale ultimately decided to leave the project on hold until the next meeting.



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