WETHERSFIELD - Wethersfield residents were in for quite a surprise three weeks ago when they took a look around town to see trees leaning, lopsided, and stripped of some of their branches.
The trimming--on trees along Ridge Road, on the Broad Street Green and on Church Street in Old Wethersfield--was performed by contractors hired by Connecticut Light and Power, (CL&P) as a power line protection measure, personnel from the company told a crowd of disgruntled residents at last Monday’s Town Council meeting.
“It’s for the safety of the public, for the utility workers, also for the visual and physical access for the service and during emergency situations,” said David Goodson, Manager of CL&P’s Vegetative Management Department during the meeting. “Also for the electrical power--we want our lights to stay on.”
CL&P’s concern was that falling trees that grow too close to the lines can cause outages in the event of severe weather such as the hurricanes and snowstorms the state has seen over the course of the past year, but both residents and councilors felt that the job could have been done more carefully.
“The whole thing was helter skelter,” said Councilor Gerry Roberts. “I understand why people are upset.”
Deputy Mayor John Console pointed to Sacred Heart Church, where the CL&P work left trees leaning toward the property.
“Right now you’ve put the church and church garage in danger,” Console said to Goodson. “If we have a storm, the trees are going to fall on the buildings.”
The trimming not only created dangers to infrastructures, it was just sloppy, councilors said. Town officials and residents alike expressed dissatisfaction with the aesthetic impact of the job, with Councilor Stathis Manousos even going as far as to say that it “changed the character of the town.”
“There are situations where the wire runs through the middle of the tree, but the alternative is to have the tree taken down,” Goodson said.
“The alternative would have been to have better coordination from the beginning,” Roberts shot back.
Residents and town officials have complained that the contract workers trimming the trees seemed to lack supervision. Console said that he actually approached one of the workers when he saw them doing the cutting.
“I asked, ‘Would you want a tree like that in your backyard?’” Console said. “He said, ‘I live in New York, so I don’t care.’ That’s not the kind of attitude I want.”
CL&P is required to obtain permission from individual private property owners before they cut a tree that falls within their boundaries--a step Goodson said the company took.
“This is a tough town to do tree work in because of the proximity to the wires, but we have to work within Connecticut law,” he said. “We have to get consent. If they say yes, we do it. If they say no, we don’t.”
But Console claimed that residents did not know this was happening.
“Every person I’ve gotten a complaint from never heard from CL&P,” Console said.
Company representatives met with Town Manager Jeff Bridges, as well as Town Arborist Phil Smithwick and Town Engineer and Director of Public Works Mike Turner. A notice regarding the upcoming CL&P work was posted on the town’s website, according to Bridges.
“They didn’t come to us and say they were going to butcher 30 trees in our town; that wasn’t the message,” Bridges said. “They didn’t say they were going to cut them in half, just enhanced tree trimming because they were close to the wires. Unfortunately some of their crews may not have been supervised as well as CL&P would have liked.”
Wethersfield resident Mark Walsh pointed his finger at town officials.
“I think the town dropped the ball on this one,” Walsh said during the public comments segment. “When I have a tree cut down in my yard, I’m out there watching them to make sure it’s done the way I want it.”
Jim Pelletier, another Wethersfield resident, suggested searching for alternative methods.
“When we find we can’t cut and trim our way out of this problem, do we start considering everburying the power lines?” Pelletier said.
A potential recourse would be for CL&P to plant five to six new trees, Goodson said. The key is careful location and species selection, he said.
“There’s a right place for a tree and a wrong place for a tree,” Goodson said. “A tree that wants to be 80 feet tall can’t look like a tree if it’s planted too close [to the power lines]. If it’s close to the road, close to our conductors, we want a tree that will be small at maturity.”