Residents have say on tree trimming

The Public Utility Regulatory Authority (PURA) recently reached a decision that allows residents and local organizations more opportunity to question the removal of trees and plants that lie near power lines.

PURA, a branch of the Connecticut Department of Energy, released a final decision on June 25 regarding regulations on tree trimming that it says will moderate the policy and guidelines of Connecticut Light & Power and other utility groups.

However, environmental groups have criticized the decision, saying PURA has not done enough to ensure the protection of healthy trees that do not pose a threat to power lines and other utility structures.

“We’re pleased with some refinements in PURA’s final decision,” Connecticut Fund for the Environment legal fellow Zach Bestor said in a press release. “We are disappointed, however, that the agency still has not pushed the utilities to come up with tree removal standards based on actual risk factors such as tree health, stability, and strength,” he said.

“Basing tree removal primarily on distance is an arbitrary approach that will result in the loss of healthy trees that pose little risk to our electricity infrastructure. Ultimately, the decision passes the buck to local tree wardens and residents who will have to fight individually to protect their trees.”

New requirements

CL&P has previously operated with a required eight-foot clearance zone, trimming or eliminating trees and brush within eight feet of power lines.

The new decision renders the eight-foot zone a recommendation for such action rather than a stipulation, allowing healthy trees that are not deemed a risk to power lines and electric equipment to remain within the eight-foot zone.

Additionally, PURA’s decision mandates that CL&P evaluate each tree at least 10 days prior to pruning, at which point any residents whose property abuts the site will be notified of plans to remove or prune the tree. Property owners may object to tree trimming within 10 days of notice to CL&P and their local tree warden.

Town wardens will also be notified of planned tree trimming on town property, and utility companies must receive written permission from town tree wardens before cutting on town land.

However, the decision does not appear to provide guidelines for the resolution of an objection to trimming, nor does it mandate that utility companies adopt policies to protect healthy, non-threatening trees — other than notifying residents of intended removal.

Patricia Sesto, director of environmental affairs in Wilton, agrees with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment that utility companies should take on a more discriminating procedure in terms of tree removal.

“Ideally, CL&P could have a more individualized process rather than cutting down trees wholesale,” she said.

“CL&P has not provided us with the statistics to justify their guidelines for tree removal, such as how many wires were downed by trees within the eight-foot clearance zone,” she continued.

As for whether she anticipates residents to object to tree removal by CL&P, Ms. Sesto notes that many Wiltonians have been upset with CL&P’s approach to tree trimming.

“If people understand that they have a say, they will speak up. Wilton residents are their own advocates in many things, and the new guidelines allow them to have a say,” Ms. Sesto said.

Wilton’s tree warden is Paul Young; he is assisted by assistant tree wardens Nick Lee and Lars Cherichetti. All three are licensed arborists responsible for making judgments on tree pruning and removal.

If residents receive a notice of intended removal from CL&P, they may contact the tree wardens at 203-563-0180 if they have a tree near power lines that they do not want pruned or removed.