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Another Fallen Tree, Another Power Outage

Tree damage from major storms have led to long periods of blackouts, causing some to consider adopting an ordinance barring the planting of trees close to power lines.

Paul Saltanis bought a home on Wheeler Road in 1973 and lost his power for a week when an ice storm came to town. Years later, when he lived on Webb Circle, broken tree branches landed on wires causing a power surge. A tornado caused a blackout when he lived on Hattertown Road. Now hurricanes are darkening his house on Moose Hill Road.

In every case, strong winds sending trees and branches into wires have caused the massive power outages. Saltanis, who is an arborist and president of Country Green, said people have been planting trees that can grow to significant heights too close to the road.

"I don't think a homeowner should be able to plant a tree that's going to be a hazard when they're gone," he said of the tree dying years later.

One major issue is the kinds of trees people are planting. For instance, Town Tree Warden David Solek said Norway Spruces are cheap to buy, grow very high and fall down easier during storms. In fact, he said falling Norway Spruces caused a lot of the outages when Hurricane Sandy hit.

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On Tuesday night, Saltanis attended the Monroe Land Trust & Tree Conservancy Committee meeting where he suggested the town draft and adopt an ordinance to resolve the problem.

Solek said the town can't stop people from planting within the 10-foot right-of-way from their property to the road. He said an ordinance could allow low trees to be planted 25 feet from the road and higher trees 35 feet away, creating a gradual incline.

Solek said maintenance is also important. "We need to aggressively prune back trees away from power lines," he said.

According to Solek, some of the benefits of keeping a 10-foot right-of-way from the road are that it keeps road salt away from tree roots in the winter, leaves green space for power company workers and allows drivers to see deer running into the road sooner. He suggested establishing a green mile along Route 111 from Fan Hill Road to Wheeler Road.

Saltanis said, "Maybe there could be a restriction of trees of a certain height by a power line."

Ordinances are usually enforced with fines. Solek said he prefers an approach using "more carrots than sticks."

'A Thorny Issue'

Marven Moss, a committee member, said the committee has talked about a tree ordinance before, adding it's "a very thorny issue" because enforcement of an ordinance would compete with people's right to do what they want on their own property.

Fellow committee member, Brian Quinn, said, "People don't want more rules in this town and don't want their neighbors calling saying they're doing this or that wrong."

Karl Witalis, a committee member, pointed out that people can form a sentimental attachment to their trees, adding he himself has a tall one in his own yard which is close to wires.

"The kids had a tire hanging from it," Witalis said. "I'm not cutting it down."

Samantha McGoldrick, a committee member, pointed out that some people may not be able to afford to do the landscaping needed to comply with an ordinance.

The town increasing maintenance was also discussed, but then there was the concern of how to pay for it. Quinn suggested doing the math to figure out how much it would cost each taxpayer.

"Why not do it along the main lines, by fire and police — less miles and cost," Saltanis suggested.

Getting the Word Out

Despite resistance to any new restrictions on one's property, Witalis said townspeople knowing that trees have been causing the recent power outages may make them more open to an ordinance.

Moss said, "There are things homeowners can do to alleviate the situation, not only for them but the entire community."

He pointed out that if a tree is not maintained and falls on a neighbor's property it could lead to a lawsuit.

Quinn said the committee has to educate people on the issue.

"How can we get the word out?" Solek asked. "Don't plant trees within 10 feet of a power line."

jim laguardia December 06, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Seems like common sense....
Geezer December 06, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Years ago I had my property surveyed and my property line starts about 10 feet back from the road. I was told that the town owns the property from my line to the street. So I would think that any tree on this land is owned by the town.
Jo Ann Bruno December 06, 2012 at 01:03 PM
I agree, sounds like common sense and maybe after the black-outs of the past few years, residents would be willing to agree. I know I would! Monroe should learn from other communities in the state that have pruned trees near power lines on a yearly schedule, and didn't lose power from the hurricane. Might it not be a "cost savings" if you begin to prune those dangerous trees before the "next big storm"?
jim laguardia December 06, 2012 at 02:01 PM
I don't think this will be a problem for maybe next 5 years while the visions of sitting in darkness and the roar of generators is fresh in our minds but after a while these last few power outages will be a story for old timers to tell new neighbors about. So maybe a rule that the tree warden has to inspect any plantings of trees that grow over a certain height? Or within a certain range of the wires? Could be put on the books?
Walt December 06, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Correct. I don't know why the tree warden said that the town CAN'T stop people from planting trees in the planting strip unless he was misquoted. And for him to say don't plant trees within 10 feet of a power line is pretty dumb, it should be at least a 25 foot buffer from wires. Anyway, the tree huggers won't let any of this happen so get your generators and gas up for the next time.
Sean Carter December 06, 2012 at 02:44 PM
So how much does the town own of your property? 10 feet? If a tree falls or is in danger of falling on power lines, when does it become the Town's issue and when does it become the homeowners issue? Is the Town liable to take down a tree if it is close to the road?
jim laguardia December 06, 2012 at 02:47 PM
Not sure if they "own" the first 10' or if they have right of way??
Life By The Green December 06, 2012 at 03:32 PM
We have a massive dead maple just 8' from the road, directly under power lines. My guess is that it wasn't planted per se, but a natural volunteer on the edge of a farm that sprouted long before there were even power lines in play. I cant even get Solek to look at it, let alone cut it down. I've given up trying. The town has trimmed some of the branches over the years but that's about it. We're not on a main line and it seems as if the town is ok with waiting for it to fall.
Walt December 06, 2012 at 03:35 PM
It's the right of way upon which the street is paved. If there is a 50 foot ROW and the paved portion is 30 feet then there is an additional 10 feet on each side of the road which makes up the rest of the ROW. In most cases the developer of a subdivision is asked by the town to install street trees in that ROW, and yes, they are then town trees.
Sean Carter December 06, 2012 at 04:11 PM
My tree is very close to curb, under 10 feet about 6 feet actually. It was damaged severely by Sandy and its estimated to cost 700-900 to remove, maybe higher. The Town said no, put a tree removal company (who supposedly does tree work for municipalities) said the town should really be taking it down. He has no problem with doing it, he's getting the work ($$$) but was trying to tell us the truth that the town should take care of it. It's hanging over power lines. Is the Town playing games or do I have a case?
Steve Kirsch December 06, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Life By The Green, I would suggest that you contact the First Selectman & the Director of Public Works in Monroe. Also, you could contact CL&P (https://www.cl-p.com/forms/contactus/) via e-mail and give permission for them to take down the tree.
Walt December 06, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Go to the clerks office and get a copy of your subdivision map showing the ROW and then measure how far off the road the tree is. If the tree is within the ROW the town should take care of the tree removal.
QWERTY December 06, 2012 at 08:29 PM
What exactly does a Town Tree Warden do? Is this a paid position? Is it full time? Is this a hands-on position or simply an administrative one?
Steve Kirsch December 06, 2012 at 08:33 PM
To address future tree plantings the town could create a guide book with recommendations of what to avoid planting, what varieties are good near power lines, and how close to plant or not to plant. We don’t need any new regulations – at least until we fix the major problem that exists today. The problem today is that Monroe has about 140 center-line miles of road and we don’t have a good plan for identifying unhealthy trees; for tree trimming or removal by CL&P near power lines; or for tree removal in town right-of-ways where the trees may be across the street from the power lines. Maybe the tree warden or our DPW need additional tools to do their job. Maybe we need a well documented plan for tree trimming and right-of-way vegetation maintenance.
Walt December 06, 2012 at 11:13 PM
There is no department for tree trimming, the town has no bucket truck, the "tree warden" is merely another title assigned to the ranger, and apparently anyone can plant whatever they want on town property. I'm all for an ordinance restricting trees in planting strips, and limiting the distance from plantings near power lines.
QWERTY December 07, 2012 at 04:30 AM
So when a town tree is leaning dangerously over the road, who removes it?
the watcher December 07, 2012 at 05:13 AM
I believe tree warden comes makes an inspection of the tree in question, then contacts a private contractor to come out and remove it. My guess is that there is dam little money budgeted for this purpose and now there is a huge demand and the tree warden / park ranger is doing the best he can with the limited resources available. This idea of passing an ordinance of where trees can be planted is laughable. The real problem is the utilities do not what to maintain the antiquated system they profit from. There should be a law passed by the state requiring a percentage of this to be placed under ground every year. We pay some of the highest rates in the country already and we get nothing in return. And now they want another increase! Also if you inspect your bills there is a portion stating that the bills will be estimated for the period during the storm. Which means you will not even be getting a break for the time you were without power because they are estimated on previous months.
Walt December 07, 2012 at 12:43 PM
So an ordinance regarding where trees can be planted is laughable but there should be a law requiring utilities to be underground... who do you think will pay for THAT project. @qwerty, if the tree is in the ROW put the town on notice of the hazardous tree, otherwise the abutting property owner is responsible.
the watcher December 07, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Walt It seem no one expected us to ever have a hurricane or and ice or snow storm ever again? An now that we have the trees are huge unforeseen problem. How is an ordinance going to solve this? Did someone purposely plant every tree? No, they grew naturally. So what are we going to do, spray with some toxic defoliant? Seeing we already pay some of the highest rates in the nation, It should have been a stipulation when we deregulated, that all of the utilities should have been placing this underground and paying for it. Just what good did deregulation do the consumer? There has been no improvement in service or maintenance. The only thing that has improved was CL%P profits.
Walt December 07, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Maybe your neighborhood is different, but on the streets around me the trees in the ROW were obviously planted in a planned manner. Yes, there are areas of dense wooded areas adjacent to power lines, but it would be far cheaper to cut back the trees near the power lines than to retroactively bury the the lines. They'd have to take the trees down to bury the lines anyway. Do you really think the utility would be the one footing the bill for installing underground wiring and not the ratepayers?
Carl Kolchak December 07, 2012 at 05:58 PM
I'll tell you one thing...We never had these tree issues when Vavrek still had his moustache. I'm just saying.
Geezer December 08, 2012 at 01:14 PM
Now you tell me after all that money I spent on a generator - all I had to do is ask Vavrek to grow a Moustache ?

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