The price of power?

UI planning tree removal in Fairfield

Might trees pay the ultimate price in an effort to improve reliable electrical service?

United Illuminating plans trimming around Fairfield, starting with 40 streets this year, after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a law allowing electrical utilities to prune trees within eight feet of either side of a pole, from ground to sky.

UI cites the “threat that trees can pose to the integrity of our electrical system, the reliability of your service and the safety of our customers and employees” on its website.

Others, including the Sierra Club and The Connecticut Fund for the Environment Fairfield’s Forestry Committee, disagree.

“Utility tree-trimming standards should balance the need to protect wires from vegetative hazards with the aesthetic, public health, energy saving, economic, and cultural benefits derived from tree-canopied communities and healthy roadside trees and forests,” Susan Whelan, deputy commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection wrote in a letter opposing what she called a “one size fits all” approach.

Fairfield homeowners with trees within what is termed the “utility protection zone” will first be mailed letters explaining the law and the work. Representatives from the utility will visit each home with vegetation in the UPZ and leave a consent form.

Homeowners have the right to consent, object, or modify the proposed pruning or removal of trees, whether on private property or within the right of way. The window for objection will be 15 days.

In the case of municipal trees, the town’s tree warden — Ken Placko in Fairfield — is to issue a written decision no later than 10 business days after the filing date, This decision will not be issued before a consultation with the abutting property owner, if requested. Both the abutting property owner and the utility may appeal the tree warden’s decision to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).

Dave Goodson, manager of UI’s vegetation management program, said during a May 27 public information session that the risk posed to wires and the condition of a tree are among the factors that go into deciding what will be cut after many present asked if they could have any say in the process.

State Rep. Brenda Kupchick, who voted for the revised bill, questioned the span of the program.

“We have a community that really cares about our trees and the character of our town. There is a lot of angst,” Kupchick said. “When I come home from work are all the trees on my street going to be cut down?”

Placko explained that Fairfield’s town ordinance requires that a written permit be obtained by anyone requesting a tree to be removed.

Wires run between tree limbs on Beach Road. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

Wires run between tree limbs on Beach Road. (Shawn O’Sullivan Photo)

“We will look at the tree,” he said. “I’ll make the first judgment on whether it can come down or not. At which point if I feel that there are conditions which warrant the trees removal, I will then post the tree, with the application in hand. After 10 days, if no one contests the removal, the individual has the right to remove the tree.”

Goodson, in response to a question from First Selectman Mike Tetreau, said UI would follow Fairfield’s process and obtain a permit for each tree to be removed.

Placko noted later that historically, Fairfield had granted UI a blanket permit for trimming trees, but said that was under prior pruning practices, and he did not see that happening under the new program.

“Because of this new enhanced tree trimming and renewal process that they are going under, you see a lot more being cut,” Placko said. “Just visualize no trees on the side where the wires are. It’s an eye-opener if you think about it.”

Misty Beyer, chairman of Fairfield’s Forestry Committee, raised concerns about the cost of replacing trees.

“Towns have to deal with the remains after the trees are come down,” she said. “There has not been enough discussion about a replanting plan and what we are leaving for future generations.”

Tetreau met last week with Placko, Beyer and Mary Hogue to establish a Fairfield Vegetative Task Force subcommittee of the Forestry Committee. Hogue, who has also served on the State Vegetative Task Force, will chair.

“We are looking forward to asking representatives and experts to help to advise and participate with the task force,” Hogue wrote in an email. “Our initial focus is to contact the UI Pilot communities to understand their concerns and how the pilot worked (or didn’t) for them.”

Updates, she said, would be posted on the town’s website.

Tetreau said examination of documents from pilot towns revealed omissions, including a contact number for those who have questions.

“It’s things like that that should have been tested out during the pilot that obviously weren’t,” Tetreau said. “That causes me concern.”

He also noted financial burdens UI’s plan would place on the town.

“With this project there are a number of tasks or work that UI is assigning to the tree warden. We are very concerned with how that is going to get done,” Tetreau said. “Our tree warden is currently working overtime to keep up with his current tasks, without any UI project going on.”

Tetreau said he requested UI cover those costs, but the utility has responded that it does not have the money.

“This seems to be another case where the state has handed down an unfunded mandate, where they are just expecting the town tree wardens to do all this work in support of the UI initiative and not giving us money to pay for that,” he said.

The progam also lacks a budget for grinding stumps left when trees are cut down, and for replanting trees.

“Again, these are two tasks that are being left to the town to do,” Tetreau said. “Unless we want to be a town with stump-lined streets we’ll have to do something.”

He is also worried that along state roads, where UI and the state Department of Transportation are the decision makers, there will be little control.

PURA is scheduled to make its decision this week. Tetreau says he hopes they are reconsidering.

“There are too many one-size-fits-all decisions that get handed down out of Hartford,” he said. “I would have much preferred that PURA or the state legislature had directed UI to meet with their local towns and come up with a town-specific plan. What should we do for your town and how should we do it?”

Legislating from afar, Tetreau said, is difficult, since towns want to know exactly what the utility will do.

“We are very proud of the way our town looks,” Tetreau said. “We have been a Tree City USA for 27 consecutive years.  I would hate to see a state road like North Benson with the trees cut down and a row of stumps left.”

United Illuminating has proposed cutting trees and limbs within 8 feet of poles and wires in the name of more reliable electrical service. (Shawn O'Sullivan Photo)

United Illuminating has proposed cutting trees and limbs within 8 feet of poles and wires in the name of more reliable electrical service. (Shawn O’Sullivan Photo)

About author

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© HAN Network. All rights reserved. Fairfield Sun, 1000 Bridgeport Avenue, Shelton, CT 06484

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress