‘Such extreme measures’: New Milford woman concerned about Eversource tree removal on her property

NEW MILFORD — Kelly Douthitt-Wilson is looking for a compromise. She’s trying to save some of the many dozens of trees on her property she said are scheduled to be soon taken down by Eversource.

Eversource said crews will remove “tall-growing species from the rights of way and cut branches extending into the rights of way,” according to an email sent by the utility company to Douthitt-Wilson and approximately 20 properties in her neighborhood

Additionally, in the letter, Eversource said the company will work on residents’ property to expand the cleared areas. The clearing will be either 100 feet in both directions away from the outside conductors, or whatever the pole width of the right of way is, according to Eversource spokesman Frank Poirot. The total width of the right of way near Old Lantern Road is 175 feet.

It’s part of the company’s effort to prevent the trees from causing damage in storms, he said.

Douthitt-Wilson said Eversources’s approach is too radical, and referred to the removal as “pillaging.”

“An Eversource crew will come through my backyard, my land, and rip out beautiful, luscious trees that are hundreds of years old,” she said. “I’m sick to my stomach that they can take such extreme measures at the community’s expense.”

She questioned why the cutting has to be “so extreme” and said it will impact the value of her property.

“The most important thing is, these beautiful trees, they are just beautiful and luscious, and why do they need to go to extreme measures?” she said. “When I bought this house 20 some years ago, I never in a million years thought they would come in and do something so drastic — on property that I own, that I pay the mortgage on. I work very hard to pay that and they can come in and just cut down trees that they choose? Why now? It’s just so drastic and just so horrible. It has kept me up at night a few times, thinking about it. This is just heartwrenching.”

Douthitt-Wilson said instead of 100 feet, a clearing of 50 feet would be a “better compromise,” since she said trees grow very slowly.

Hank Deitter, who also lives on Old Lantern Road, said while his property has a buffer around it so it wouldn’t be as strongly affected by the tree removal, “It does seem excessive. That’s a decent amount of area gone, that’s going to be encroaching into people’s properties.”

Like Douthitt-Wilson, Deitter proposed a compromise of 50 feet.

“More ambitions about our tree clearing ”

Poirot said the company is involved in an effort to clear the rights of way of trees as a result of potential damage than can result from storms.

“We’ve heard a lot from our customers and from state regulators here in Connecticut about improving our service to our customers, particularly after Hurricane Isaias (in the summer of 2020),” he said. “With trees being the No. 1 one cause of outages during a storm, we’re being a little more ambitions about our tree clearing now than we ever have been in the past.”

He added transmission lines can impact a large number of customers.

“If a tree falls down and takes with it one of our poles in the street system, that can impact a couple hundred customers, give or take,” Poirot said. “On a transmission line, we’re talking about up to tens of thousands of customers.”

Another reason for such a wide cut is in the event of a storm, it allows crews to get to a damaged piece of equipment much quicker if there are no trees fallen inside that right of way, he said.

He said two years ago, Eversource faced a “real challenge” in Old Lyme where a storm had brought down so many trees in its right of way, they couldn’t drive through it.

“Reaching these damaged areas with a bucket truck was very difficult because so many trees had fallen across the access road,” he said.

New Milford Mayor Pete Bass said Eversource has federal jurisdiction to do the cutting, “which supersedes state and local efforts.”

He expressed concern about possible invasive plants, saying that when Eversource makes a clear-cutting, “it leaves almost a deforestation. You have other types of plants, which could be invasive, that grow in replacement of them.”

He also recommended if trees are going to be removed, “perhaps there can be some plantings that won’t reach the height of problems with towers — and make it look aesthetically nice.”

Additionally, Bass said he’s meeting with Eversource’s arborists to inquire about some trees that would pose “absolutely no danger” within those areas, to be left alone, “especially if it’s areas that create buffers.”

Occurring across the state

Vegetation work on transmission rights of way is taking place across the entire state of Connecticut, Poirot said.

“We are working on 23 miles of right of way that stretches from Kent, on the New York state line to Bethlehem. Old Lantern Road is part of this work,” he said. “We are also working on a right of way that traverses shoreline towns between Greenwich and Fairfield.”

He said a lot of the work of cutting down trees often goes unnoticed because transmission rights of way are located in remote areas — such as in the woods.

In Douthitt-Wilson’s neighborhood, however, Old Lantern Road is on one side and Cathryn Street is on the other.

“So our right of way is sandwiched in between these different rows of homes,” he said. “That’s the challenge we face in the more populated areas of the state — in areas where our transmission rights of way run in back of people’s homes.”

Poirot said the tree work is “all part of our effort to improve service to our customers. That’s really what it all comes down to.”