Although Occupy New Haven was evicted from its encampment on the Upper Green April 18, it may take months for the city to undo the damage the protest did to the Green’s trees and soil.
Restoration of the Green began immediately after last Wednesday’s eviction, said Christy Hass, deputy director of the city’s parks department. The encampment, which Occupy protesters inhabited for more than six months, caused soil compaction and erosion due to the Green’s slight slope, said City Hall spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton. She added that the rough estimate of the restoration’s cost to taxpayers is approximately $4,000, significantly less than the initial expected cost of $25,000. The total cost of the protest to the city was roughly $145,000 in police overtime and other city services.
“When the soil is compacted to that degree, not only does it mean that it’s difficult for grass to grow, but it also creates challenges for the root structures for some of our trees,” Benton said. As a result, she added, the soil must be aerated and fertilized to prevent further erosion.
On Wednesday, lime was added to the fractured soil in order to meet the pH level required for plants to grow, Hass said, and Friday marked the start of the air spading process, which fractures the soil in order to allow passage of air and nutrients. The most important goal, Hass said, is to restore the grass area and allow it to grow a root system. There are plans to create a seed bed that will be hydro-pumped in order to hold the seeds to the soil, Hass added. The hydro-mulch, Benton said, will hold moisture to the ground and prevent erosion.
After the grass restoration process is underway, the city can focus on the Green’s elm trees, which may need to be re-fertilized in the coming months to prevent further damage caused by the soil compaction, Hass said. Currently, she added, there are no plans to plant more trees on the Green.
“We’re trying to relieve the stress and give the trees an opportunity to breathe and give them a chance to heal,” Hass said. Although the city originally estimated a $25,000 cost to repair the Green to its pre-Occupy state, Benton said that due to monetary, material and equipment donations, the cost to taxpayers is expected to be around $4,000. These costs, she added, are not final values and could change as a result of ongoing work and testing.
Although some Occupy protesters had expressed interest in returning to the Green to help remedy the damage caused during the protest, which began on Oct. 15, Benton said the restoration process requires “professional expertise.”
The Green’s restoration process does not have a fixed end date, but Benton said the space is expected to return to pre-Occupy conditions within a few months.
Patrick Bowe, director of the remediation division of the Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse — a part of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection — said the Green’s landscape renovations are similar to what a high school or college would do to treat its football field at the end of a playing season.
The current state of the Upper Green, he added, resembles “your backyard after you’ve had a big party.”
The Occupy site will remain roped off for a few months to allow grass root structures to take hold, Benton said.