Dampens enhanced tree-trimming plans and leaves tree protection up to citizens and towns.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 26, 2014
CFE: PURA TREES DECISION PASSES THE BUCK
Citizens and town tree wardens given responsibility to protect trees
New Haven, Ct.—Connecticut Fund for the Environment expressed disappointment with the Public Utility Regulatory Authority’s final decision today regarding tree-trimming by Connecticut utilities. CFE has argued that CL&P’s and UI’s plans are too rigid and aggressive in their approach, which seek to remove of all tall-growing tree species within eight feet of power lines, and believes the utilities should instead focus on the hazardous trees most likely to fall. While today’s the decision moderates CL&P’s and UI’s plans it fails to go far enough to protect healthy trees that don’t threaten utility infrastructure and leaves this largely to citizens and towns.
Legislation passed this spring added some protections, including a requirement for explicit written permission for trimming trees entirely on private property, a dedicated email address and a mediating body to make it simple for residents to object to trimming of trees abutting their property, a provision for stump grinding, and clarification that residents will not be financially responsible for trees that may fall onto power lines.
“We’re pleased with some refinements in PURA’s final decision. There are general references to the need to use “alternative solutions” to the outright removal of vegetation, the need for healthy trees to remain near utility lines, a the requirement for tree-by-tree evaluations at least 10 days before sending out notices. 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,” said Zack Bestor, legal fellow at CFE. “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.”
Highlights of the decision included these improvements:
- The decision requires tree assessment at least ten days in advance of any cutting, rather than at the time of pruning. This is necessary for notices to towns and property owners to have any effect.
- Explicit written permission from the town tree warden will be required before trimming on town land. Additionally, property owners whose property abuts the right of way where a tree is slated to be removed can object within ten days of receiving notice.
- The “eight-foot zone standard” becomes a suggestion rather than a requirement in the final decision, leaving room for healthy trees to remain in the zone.
However, CFE remains concerned about other aspects, including:
- Responsibility for objecting to the cutting of a tree remains in the hands of tree wardens and residents, rather than requiring the utilities to design standards that protect trees and are based on removal criteria other than distance.
- PURA recommends that the state’s Vegetation Management Task Force consider a way to charge private property owners if they object to tree trimming and the tree subsequently falls and damages the lines, which is illegal and contrary to the legislation passed at the end of last session.
- Unfortunately, the final decision says that the entire tree will be removed if pruning the tree creates an unhealthy or dangerous condition, an over-destructive and unnecessary policy. (In some cases, the pruning of a healthy tree that extends within eight feet of the wires would itself create a dangerous condition where one did not exist previously. In these cases, the pruning should be adjusted accordingly to not create the hazard.)
- The notice to property owners will be sent via first class, rather than certified mail.
- Specific protections for trees compatible with the utility infrastructure and do not pose a threat are not included in the decision.
“What is clear in the decision is that town tree wardens and private property owners will have a vital role to play in protecting against over-cutting by the utilities,” Bestor said. “We encourage residents to be on the lookout for notices, and to contact the utility and their tree warden right away if they have a tree near the power lines that they do not want pruned or removed.”
Cover photo by the Fairfield Citizen