Wilton committee tasked with tree planting guidelines for property owners

The Board of Selectmen has asked the town tree committee to weigh in on tree planting guidelines to prevent situations where trees take down wires during storms.

The Board of Selectmen has asked the town tree committee to weigh in on tree planting guidelines to prevent situations where trees take down wires during storms.

Macklin Reid / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — When tropical storm Isaias hit in August, the majority of trees that brought down wires were privately owned, tree warden Lars Cherichetti told the tree committee at a meeting last month.

The tree wardens are keeping track of problem trees, and the public works department is able to remove them “quite promptly,” he said. That was not the case two years ago.

The issue of trees and storms brought Selectman Joshua Cole to the electronic meeting on Oct. 14, to discuss ways to “improve public utility service and resiliency,” he said.

The selectmen are interested in the committee’s thoughts on proposing an ordinance consistent with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s “Right Tree, Right Size” guidelines. This would encourage property owners to plant trees that are not likely to grow so large or so close to electrical wires that they cause a potential hazard.

“We as a board identified the tree committee as one of the town’s committees we think might be able to help us implement some changes to accomplish this goal,” he said.

The committee’s thoughts on a removal plan for town-owned trees are also of interest to the selectmen, Cole said.

Members of the committee, which is chaired by Jackie Algon, who is also on the Conservation Commission, agreed their greatest role would be in educating homeowners on tree selection, placement and maintenance.

Algon said she is hoping to work with Wilton Library in identifying relevant materials that would be useful to property owners and perhaps organize a program on trees and conservation for the community.

Any ordinance that might be proposed, Cole said, would be drafted by the town’s legal team.

“If you are advocating for it, I think it will give credibility to the people in the town. With your experience, background and expertise in this area that you feel some type of ordinance is appropriate, I think that would give a lot of credence to it,” he said. “I would defer to your experience, not so much in the drafting of it but what the criteria would be.”

From the commission, he said he would be looking for the appropriate standards.

“That sounds very reasonable to me,” committee member Suzanne Knutson said.

“We’re looking for you to be in more of an advisory capacity to us as to what you feel is appropriate,” he said.

“I think the starting point is to look at what other towns are doing and see if there is something that would fit here rather than starting from scratch,” Cole said.

“If we find one we like, we can tweak it based on your recommendations,” he said, adding it will take several months for anything to take shape.

The committee agreed to investigate possible ordinances already in place in Greenwich, Darien, Ridgefield, New Canaan, Redding, Westport and Weston with an eye toward standards, enforcement, and how well any ordinances may have worked in terms of reducing power outages.

“With the storms we had in August, this is top of mind for people who were without power for a week,” Cole said. They’re going to want the town to be proactive.”

The tree committee is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 11.

Right Tree, Right Place

Greenwich is one of the towns in Fairfield County that follows DEEP’s guidelines in its tree policy. Property owners are encouraged to plant low-growing ornamental trees such as crabapple and dogwood when selecting specimens for under power lines.

Trees that grow 25 to 45 feet tall may be planted 15 to 30 feet from power lines. Arborvitae and flowering cherry trees are among the examples in this category.

Large trees that surpass 45 feet — oak, maple and pine trees, for example — should be planted at least 30 feet from power lines, according to the Greenwich tree policy.

DEEP’s Right Tree, Right Place guidelines remind property owners the trees they plant today may very well live into the next century, that what is manageable today may not be 20 to 30 years from now.

The guidelines give an extensive list of trees, their origin, how tall they tend to grow, and certain traits such as whether they flower or produce berries, type of bark, if they are invasive, and general hardiness.