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Westport Selectmen Candidates Tackle Environmental Issues

Westport First Selectman candidates Helen Garten, a Democrat, and Jim Marpe, a Republican, discuss environmental issues Monday night in a debate at Earthplace.
Westport First Selectman candidates Helen Garten, a Democrat, and Jim Marpe, a Republican, discuss environmental issues Monday night in a debate at Earthplace. Photo Credit: Vanessa Inzitari
Westport's Second Selectman candidate Avi Kaner, a Republican, and Melissa Kane, a Democrat, answer questions during Monday night's Earthplace debate.
Westport's Second Selectman candidate Avi Kaner, a Republican, and Melissa Kane, a Democrat, answer questions during Monday night's Earthplace debate. Photo Credit: Vanessa Inzitari

WESTPORT, Conn. – Trees, deer, transportation and global warming were some of the topics Westport’s first and second selectman candidates discussed Monday in an environmental debate sponsored by Earthplace.

The Democratic team of Helen Garten and Melissa Kane and the Republican team of Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner shared similar views on some issues. However, the issue of protecting trees on private property was contentious.

Garten, current vice chairman of the Board of Finance, said she would support a town ordinance or other regulatory measure to protect trees on private property from being cut down.

“One of the concerns on private property is when a developer buys a property and is going to tear down the house. First they tear down the house, but then they tend to deforest the entire lot,” said Garten. “I certainly would support some sort of ordinance or regulation — it may have to be a Planning and Zoning regulation — about clear-cutting loss when there is development.”

Garten also spoke about the need to protect historic trees around town. If elected, said she would like to explore the possibility of designating historic trees and would look to see what similar towns are doing to protect such trees.

Unlike Garten, Marpe — former vice chairman of the Board of Education — did not express unwavering support for an ordinance governing what people can do with trees on private property. The town, he said, has to be careful with ordinances that address private property, as property owners expect to have certain rights.

However, Marpe said he is “absolutely in favor of doing everything we can to encourage the preservation of good trees” on private property. For example, instead of cutting trees down, he said residents should consider moving trees on their property—something he did when his home was recently rebuilt.

“We took the time and effort to move and transplant every tree on that property so we could make way for the building and place [the trees] where they belong on the property,” Marpe said. “They were worth saving and I’m proud we did that."

Although clear-cutting is cheaper, Marpe said it is important to prevent that practice as much as possible.

When asked how they would propose controlling the deer population, both sides spoke in favor of exploring the use of contraception. Both sides also agreed that improving the town’s mass transportation system is important.

Kaner, Marpe’s running mate and current Board of Finance chairman, emphasized the need to encourage more commuters to use mass transportation, especially those coming into town for work, as more people commute into Westport than from Westport, he said.

Kane, Garten’s running mate and a current member of the Representative town Meeting, spoke about the need to expand service to not only better serve commuters, but seniors, disabled residents and students looking to get around town.

Both teams will meet again in a debate this Thursday hosted by Staples High School students and moderated by Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill. The debate will begin at 6 p.m. in the Staples cafeteria.

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