The Oak Hills Authority Plan for a commercial driving range on 7+ acres of unspoiled woodlands is an affront to anyone in Norwalk who cares about the environment and the health of Norwalkers.
There are approximately 700 mostly mature trees that would have to be removed from this area in order to build the range, based on a national average of 100 trees per acre. Depending on the size and configuration of the plan, that number could be larger or smaller.
Each one of those trees--all of which are apparently considered expendable by the Oak Hills Park Authority--can absorb between 120 and 240 pounds per year of the small particles and gases of air pollution. Multiply that by 700 and the total comes out to 168,000 pounds of pollutants that these trees remove every year from the Norwalk's air.
In addition, one forested acre absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. According to this calculation, these 7 acres of trees in Oak Hills Park remove 42 tons of CO2 and return 28 tons of oxygen to the air every year. All at no cost to taxpayers.
If these trees are clear cut for a driving range, Norwalk's air will immediately get more polluted. And more residents will be at risk for health problems such as asthma ,emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases associated with dirty air.
As it is, most of us are already breathing some pretty bad air. Recent statistics show that Fairfield County has the most polluted air in Connecticut. In 2010 Fairfield County had over 32 million person days that exceeded Nation Air Quality Standards, according the US Environmental Protection Agency. That number is almost twice the number in New Haven County, which came in at number 2.
Sadly, if this project is approved the air we breathe, particularly in West Norwalk, will get worse.
Besides cleaning the air, mature trees provide a host of other benefits. Trees filter pollutants from rainfall and runoff, which decreases contamination to waterways and wells. They help reduce flooding and erosion. And they contribute to our quality of life by providing a welcome oasis from suburban stress and sprawl.
For this reason, homes and businesses located near parklands have higher real estate values than homes not near parks. Real estate close to tree filled parks is also considered more desirable than real estate close to golf courses.
Because of their environmental, health and aesthetic benefits they provide, wooded areas have a significant and measurable economic value to municipalities such as Norwalk.
According to the Association of Tree and Landscape appraisers, a mature tree has an accessed value of between $1000 and $10,000. Let's split the difference and say that each tree is worth $5,000. At 100 trees per acre, the average found in a mature woodland, the cumulative value of these trees to the taxpaying residents of Norwalk is $3,500,000.
So recognizing the economic value of these public trees to the citizens of Norwalk, the Oak Hills Park Authority RFP should insist that bidders on the driving range compensate the city for the loss of these trees. Replacing large mature trees with skinny saplings will not be enough.
But due to the high cost and tremendous public value of this forested area, a better idea would be to simply abandon the plan
Let's not forget that while less than 10% of the population plays golf, 100% of us breathe the air.
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