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CL & P needs to rid state of dangerous trees while respecting residents' rights

Published 6:52 pm, Wednesday, March 14, 2012
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We have mixed emotions about Connecticut Light & Power's announcement this week the company plans to spend $53.5 million in 2012 on tree-trimming -- about double the amount it spent in 2011.

On the one hand, this aggressive program will enable CL&P to do a much better job of eliminating problem trees and branches than it has done in recent years.

The existence of thousands of dead or dying trees and countless tree branches hanging over power lines across the state contributed to the two lengthy power outages faced by Connecticut residents last year -- following Tropical Storm Irene in late August and the freakish nor'easter that hit in late October.

On the other hand, we are concerned CL&P might overreact to the major outages of 2011, for which the company took a lot of heat.

We are concerned CL&P will be tempted to do aggressive clear-cutting -- rather than well-reasoned, moderate tree-cutting and trimming -- in an effort to avoid in the future the criticism it faced last year.

Let's put things in perspective.

The weather in 2011 was extreme, almost bizarre, and the two power outages came after the rarest of storms.

Connecticut had not seen a hurricane or tropical storm like Irene in a quarter of a century, and there is no record of a nor'easter ever before hitting the state before Halloween.

So it is not likely residents of Greater New Milford or Connecticut would see the likes of either type of storm on any sort of regular basis. And we may never again have a nor'easter dump a foot or two of wet, heavy snow on trees still bearing leaves -- a major reason many trees were felled.

Keep in mind, too, many critics have said the power outages were much longer than they should have been due to poor response planning and execution by CL& P.

This is not to say that CL&P should not aggressively try to rid Greater New Milford and the state of dead and dying trees and do a really good job of trimming back branches that threaten the power lines, because it should.

But there is no need to clear entire roadways of trees, or to cut down any tree within 30 or 40 feet of a power line, as some residents had suggested following last year's outages.

Falling trees and branches are without a doubt a major threat to maintaining power across the state, and CL&P has a responsibility to minimize that threat.

Trees are also a source of beauty and ambience, they provide privacy and shade, and they add value to a homeowner's property.

It is critical a fair and reasonable balance be struck between these two poles.

We are hopeful CL&P will focus primarily on diseased trees and overhanging branches and will stay away from residents' streetside trees unless there is an absolutely compelling reason that cutting would be deemed necessary.

And, in all cases, plenty of advance notice must be given to the homeowner, and a fair appeals process must be followed.

In the end, we applaud CL&P for recognizing it needs to do more to protect the state from any more prolonged power outages, and we call on the company to address that need while maintaining the greatest respect for the majesty of trees and the rights of homeowners.