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.
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."