UI works to protect trees

From a tree’s perspective, after Hurricane Sandy, Fairfield Beach was a disaster.

A series of flood-prevention measures had been built to protect the low-lying coastal neighborhood in Fairfield. But when Hurricane Sandy overwhelmed those defenses last October with a storm surge that turned roads into canals and beach homes into kindling, those protective barriers became traps. They stopped the seawater from ebbing back into the Sound, turning the area into a saltwater basin.

As the neighborhood began to dry out and rebuild, trees began to die.

Touring the neighborhood recently with Fairfield Tree Warden Ken Placko, Alyssa Israel of the Fairfield Beach Residents Association pointed out tree after dying tree.

“Those trees are so stressed that the borers (insects) are going to be coming in,” Placko said.

“The firs and the pines and the dogwoods really took a hit during Storm Sandy,” said Israel, pointing to a fir tree whose northern hemisphere was the color of rust.

It’s more than just an issue of aesthetics. Dead or damaged trees are generally the first to fall when a big storm comes through. When they come down, they often bring electric lines with them.

That’s why, after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, The United Illuminating Co. and its parent company, UIL Holdings Corp., established programs to help replace damaged trees and spread public awareness of the importance of avoiding tree-utility conflicts.

Planting appropriate species of trees in locations where they will not interfere with overhead lines can reduce the need for utilities to remove or prune healthy trees that have grown too close to power lines.

In 2012, UI continued an ongoing “Right Tree, Right Place” outreach campaign to educate customers about proper planting. Meanwhile, UIL established grants — dubbed Tree Renewal and Environmental Education (TREE) grants — to help community organizations replace trees lost during storms, and to make sure they are planted where they will not conflict with nearby utilities. The grants include a public-education component, requiring recipients to spread the word about “Right Tree, Right Place.”

The Fairfield Beach Residents Association recently received a $1,000 TREE grant to replace trees lost to Sandy. Another phase of funding would add $1,000 to the total, resulting in a total of 15 new trees, chosen to be appropriate for their location and tolerant to saltwater in case of a future flood.

Placko said it’s one of many steps toward recovery for the arboriculture in Fairfield, where approximately 1,000 dead or damaged trees were removed after Sandy. “This whole area was underwater,” he said.

The Fairfield Beach Residents Association is not the only group to benefit. Other TREE grant projects include a project by Milford Trees, Inc. to plant trees at the Beardsley Park and Playground in Bridgeport, a project by Groundwork Bridgeport to plant trees at Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo and a project by the Lordship Improvement Association of Stratford to establish trees and shrubs at Kidd’s Bluff and other town parks.

“We’re pleased to be able to help plant trees and beautify neighborhoods, while helping the public make choices that can avert some of the problems we’ve seen in the past when storms come through,” said John J. Prete, chief operating officer of UI electric operations and vice president of technical services. “Trees are an important part of Connecticut’s urban and rural landscape, and making the right choices when you’re planting can help ensure the trees are protected and don’t threaten nearby utility services.”

For information about “Right Tree, Right Place,” visit uinet.com.

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