Utility tree trimming rules being finalized

Tree branches near power lines are pruned (File).

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (WTNH) — Making sure trees don’t fall on power lines is the subject of a public hearing that went on in New Britain today. Recent storms proved the need for trimming.

All the nasty storms in recent years made it clear, with trees knocking out power to so many for so long, Connecticut had to do something. The power companies pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars cutting back trees near power lines but anything the utilities do, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has to regulate.

For two years, they’ve been working on rules for what trees and how far back, trying to strike that balance that the public, like the Garden Club of New Haven, wants.

“We would get a good balance protecting the trees that are healthy and structurally sound and power reliability,” said Mary-Michelle Hirschoff, Garden Club of New Haven.

So far the regulations say utilities have to notify homeowners of upcoming tree trimming, and if homeowners don’t like the plan they can complain to their local Tree Warden . Yes, your town probably has one.

It’s part of what PURA learned through a series of public hearings like this one.

tree committee

“We wanted to make sure everybody had an opportunity to talk and we didn’t set any time limits and we heard the people loud and clear that night,” said John Betkowski, PURA Vice President.

The folks at PURA hope that, as often as possible, disputes about which trees should come down will be resolved at the local level with those tree wardens and the homeowners. They say there’s already been one mediation like that in Essex, and it ended with everybody happy.

There is still some work to do, and even before this final public hearing, they were still making changes to the wording. Just one example – trees left standing should be able to withstand “extreme weather”…but what does that mean?

“It could mean anything from a category five hurricane in which all bets are off and goodbye to us all, or it could mean bad storms,” said Hirschoff.

If you remember, the tree trimming started, then stopped as the public outcry grew. They start to re-start it soon. These new regulations should come out in about two weeks.

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