47 Crews Tackle Tree Clean-Up

Thomas MacMillan Photo(Updated.) Crews throughout the city set to work Monday restoring power and clearing streets by disposing of downed trees, including one on State Street that neighbors had for a year worried would topple.

That fallen tree, at the corner of State and Edwards streets, was the backdrop for a Monday afternoon press conference with city and power company officials.

While life, limb and property in New Haven emerged largely unscathed from the storm, over 1,200 city trees bore the brunt of Irene’s wrath—and are the focus of cleanup efforts.

Those trees took down power lines when they fell, leaving 17,000 households without power as of Monday morning and traffic signals darkened at 55 intersections.

John Prete, a senior vice president at United Illuminating, said Monday he could not estimate when power would return to all of New Haven.

In addition to taking out power lines, fallen trees also blocked 8 streets throughout town and obstructed 49 others, Mayor John DeStefano said Monday afternoon.

The fallen timber is the result of Hurricane—later Tropical Storm—Irene, which swept through town Saturday evening and Sunday morning. The storm prompted the boarding up of homes, the opening of emergency shelters, and an evacuation order for 466 homes in Morris Cove. Read Independent storm coverage here, here, and here.

New Haven escaped the storm without any major injuries to people and only minimal property damage, Mayor John DeStefano said. He said damage to and from trees was the most significant of the storm’s effects.

He said Monday that the city had 221 workers out in 47 crews cutting and clearing trees. “We will do that nearly the entire week,” he said. “Nearly 24 hours a day.”

Workers from several city departments, along with contractors, comprise the crews.

“I know you’re frustrated,” said Prete. UI had 60 crews working through the night and had called in workers from around the country and Canada to help out, he said.

The company is looking at about 100,000 man-hours of work, he said. “That’s 50 linemen working for a year.”

He said UI hopes to have an assessment completed by Monday night and be able to estimate when service will return by midnight. He asked for continued patience.

“We’re hopeful by sunset tomorrow to have most trees off the roads,” DeStefano said.

Mayor John DeStefano, at the same event, estimated Irene will cost the city about $1 million. The city has already put out $500,000 in overtime pay to workers, he said. “I’m sure we’ll get to well over $1 million in the week.”

He said he expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse the city for most of that.

Tree Was Set To Topple?

DeStefano’s comments temporarily silenced the buzz of chainsaws as contractors from C.J. Fucci labored to remove a large tree that fell across State Street early Sunday morning.

SeeClickFixPam Blair, who lives on the second floor of 972 State St., just feet from where the trees leafy canopy came to rest, said the tree fell at 8:20 a.m. She said she was lying down in a back room when it happened.

“I heard a bang,” she said. “I came into the front to see what happened. ... I could see broken power lines.”

Blair said she lost power when the tree fell but the building, which she owns, was not damaged.

The tree is one that SeeClickFix founder and Upper State Street association head Ben Berkowitz has had his eye on for some time. Over a year ago, he put up a SeeClickFix ticket entitled “falling tree?” It was accompanied by a photo in which the tree seemed to be listing dangerously to one side.

“It was substantially leaning out over the street,” Berkowitz said. The city never addressed it and eventually Berkowitz closed the issue.

“I really do regret closing it,” he said. “I should have stayed on the city harder.”

A related SeeClickFix ticket was also put up by Berkowitz. That one called for a repair to a cracked and raised sidewalk around the tree. Berkowitz said he doesn’t think repairs to the sidewalk damaged the tree or caused it to tilt further. It was leaning already, he said.

Down At Dwight’s House

Monday’s press conference followed a similar one Sunday at the corner of Starr and Mansfield streets in Newhallville, where a parks department crew was at work cleaning up a tree that had fallen near the home of Dwight Baker.

Baker, watching as the crew sawed through a dangling branch, said the tree fell at about 10:30 a.m. It coincided with a power line coming down and charring the base of a nearby tree.

Baker, who’s lived in the house for eight years, noted that the tree limb could have landed on his house. “A little different direction would have been problematic.”

Across town, many other homeowners seem to have had similar experiences. DeStefano said that of the more than 1,000 trees affected by the storm, only seven had been reported to have hit houses.

Even with minimal property damage, the city has a lot of work ahead of it, DeStefano said.

“We had three days of preparation, five hours of storm, and now we have a ton of cleanup,” he said. That’s the priority now, he said.

Monday morning trash pickup was canceled as all trash collectors were diverted to hurricane cleanup. All other available city workers would be doing the same, including staff from the Livable City Initiative, the housing authority, and the Board of Education, he said. DeStefano said he also talked to Yale president Rick Levin about enlisting some “Yale assets” to help.

DeStefano said he couldn’t predict when power would return for all of New Haven. “I spoke to the president of UI about the importance of New Haven.”

No power also means no traffic lights in much of the city. DeStefano said that temporary stop signs were being deployed to intersections, turning them into four-way stops. He said extra cops were also being deployed, not for traffic direction but for guarding downed power lines.

Some of the damaged trees are in city parks, city spokesman Adam Joseph said, and the city will be working with neighborhood park groups to clean those areas.

The damage to 1,250 of the city’s trees comes at a time when the city is in the midst of a massive 10,000-tree planting campaign. “These are things we can’t control,” said Joseph.

Why They Fell

Chris Ozyck, tree expert and staffer at the Urban Resources Initiative, the group which is working with the city to plant the thousands of trees, offered his perspective on the tree damage Sunday evening as he was leading a group of Yale students in cleaning up some of the mess.

He said the storm—combined with recent budget cuts to the tree-planting initiative—means the city will again be losing more trees than it’s planting. “This is going to take a hit this year. We’re going back into deficit mode.”

“When a big tree comes down and you plant one tree for that, it takes 50 years” to get to the size of the downed one, Ozyck said. “The best time to plant such a tree is 50 years ago. The next best time is tomorrow.”

Many of the damaged trees seem to belong to species that the city no longer plants, because they are more susceptible to damage. Pear trees, for example, were hit disproportionally hard, Ozyck said. Siberian elms also took some hits, and even the occasional oak tree came down, he said.

Some trees snapped off at the base, which is a sign that they were planted too deep and suffered rot around the bottom, Ozyck said.

“Then you have wind throws,” he said. Trees around here are not used to taking wind from the east, he said. “Almost always, our prevailing winds come from the west.” But in the swirl of a hurricane, trees were blown from a side they had not grown up to brace.

Many trees shed dead branches, he said. “It’s Mother Nature pruning.”

Blizzard Lessons

New Haven’s most recent previous weather emergency came last winter, when record-setting snows bombarded the city. At that time, the administration came under fire from neighbors who felt the response to the winter emergency was insufficient. They complained of a lack of information and streets left untouched by plows for days.

DeStefano said Sunday that the city did much more with electronic communication with Irene than during the blizzard. The city did a better job of using “social networks” and contacting aldermen before, during and after the storm, to make sure important information was dispersed, DeStefano said.


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posted by: Zalman Alpert on August 29, 2011  11:09am

In terms of long range planning. Would it not make sense at some point to develop a long range plan to put our power lines underground.
Given the snow storms, hurricanes , earth quakes, this would amke a lot of sense. IT should be done on a state rather than local level. In NYC (Manhattan there hardly are any overhead power lines , hence 1 reason the hurricane left little “residue”.

posted by: robn on August 29, 2011  11:15am

The city did OK. I was surprised to see guys and gals out at noon yesterday already clearing carry-able limbs from streets with pick-ups.

I noticed that a lot of trees in our neighborhood that were clearly rotted didn’t fall and very healthy ones like massive London Plane Trees were cracked in half. I suspect that there was something atmospherically weird about this storm that created strong episodic winds.

Noticed a lot of people crossing police lines and touching broken trees…not good…trees can conduct electricity.

posted by: anon on August 29, 2011  11:37am

Financially, our city is going to be extremely hard hit by the loss of more trees—and, in particular, the failure of current and past city administrations to plant enough of them. 

Each tree is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city in the form of reduced utility bills, walkability and many other factors. Because of these factors, trees directly translate into more household and renter savings, and therefore stronger support for local jobs and businesses.

posted by: Josephine Dixon-Banks on August 29, 2011  11:55am


Build beach front property in the path of the ocean
Land developers had no inkling or notion
Deterioration of land
Experts amazed but don’t understand

Build your cities on an earthquake fault
Experts are shocked at this assault

Modern man is so intelligent and civilized
Subjugation of all life or death enterprise
Even stupidity can recognize and respect Universal Nature
Inspite of modernized, plagerized nomenclature

Destruction of the atmosphere and the birds
Business mentality of the absurd

Great waters of the world, the shark’s domain
To pollute these waters is insane
Destroying natural resources in profane

Modern man, civilized man
The reign of pain you inflict
Will predict the final demise of innocent lives

Blatant anger with a badge and a gun
Feeling powerful while intimidating just for fun
Shoot to kill, the law has won

The judge on the bench is full of hate
This animosity determines your fate
To appease this anger, punishment of an innocent stranger

People are resources and property
Crime and drugs blamed on parents and poverty
What about white collar crime
It’s portrayed as a good-deed most of the time


posted by: Ora on August 29, 2011  6:02pm

Mayor and Mr.Smuts,most of those people you have sent out must be contracted because you laid off so many workers over the years. I know you are trying to do damage control mayor, but believe me you cannot recoup all the votes you have lost over the last couple of years. Sorry, but you are just not all that popular anymore and rightfully so. So just concentrate on getting the city cleaned up and thank you very much!

posted by: Gary Doyens on August 29, 2011  6:09pm

United Illuminating is a disgrace. When a customer calls their customer service line, you are told nothing. There is no information. When you wait for 30 minutes to get an update from a live person, they tell you nothing. When you tell them whole neighborhoods are sitting in the dark in a very dangerous city and that there should be some sort of update available for citizens so they can plan accordingly, they tell you to call 911 or move out. UI says crews are on the way from Florida and out West.

UI knew 2 weeks ago that Irene was coming. It knew 10 days ago it was headed to the NE, its speed, its trajectory and its strength.

UI failed to prepare for this storm; failed to set up crews on stand by status and now fail to give out even minimum information despite its customers paying confiscatory utility rates amid a non-stop whining cry for more money so CEO Torgerson can enjoy his million dollar salary and build the Taj Mahal in Orange.

What the citizens need in the city is a leader who is not interested in photo ops of trees down or an excuse maker at the utility collectively playing cover their ass for lack of information, lack of planning for recovery in such a small storm. God help us if a real hurricane hit us. If that happened, we would likely be cooking on campfires and guarding our homes with shotguns for months.

The lack of information and forward motion is inadequate and unacceptable.

And for the record John Prete, SVP at UI - the janitor or intern could have delivered your one sentence bit that had no information.

posted by: Elaine Braffman on August 29, 2011  11:20pm

Gary Doyen, I completely agree.

posted by: Our Town on August 30, 2011  9:58am

Mayor John is certainly capitalizing on the PR angle of this. Between press conferences and TV ads, he’s making a couple of robo calls a night.

posted by: Grateful Citizen on August 30, 2011  10:40am

Thank you to the crews who are working overtime. They were working all night long in my neighborhood last night and I appreciate it.

posted by: Funky Chicken on August 30, 2011  10:45am

OMG Hell hath frozen over- I agree 100% with Gary Doyens!!!

posted by: Cinderella on August 30, 2011  11:34am

New Haven has too many old trees that people revere beyond all bounds not taking into consideration the danger involved.  Most are now dangerously near to tumbling down. Time to take them down.
Natural disasters are shocking, particularly when they hit those who thought they were invincible or who felt that the news was hyping everything up. Reality check: hurricane kits and advice are followed scrupulously by those who live in Florida or the Carolinas for a good reason- this damage happens. New Haven and surrounding areas are in hurricane pathways. We were warned to prepare.
Get the hurricane lamps out, the batteries, the water jugs filled and prepare. Government can’t do everything for everybody. Just be glad you don’t live in VT right now. They are totally flooded out.

posted by: Patrick Korten on August 30, 2011  11:48am

48 hours after the storm, Front St. remains completely blocked by a downed tree, and it hasn’t been touched by a city crew.  No sign of UI either.

posted by: Mr No Power on August 30, 2011  1:06pm

48 hours after the storm and two massive trees down across Girard Ave in Morris Cove. Ditto, no sign of anyone to clear trees and no sign of UI. Power out since 8 am Sunday

posted by: wheres UI on August 30, 2011  4:46pm

I too have not seen one UI truck since Sunday am. The tree that broke a pole - which UI did shut off power to at some point still remains even after UI TREE CREWS were trimming the entire neighborhood last night. What gives ??? Wheres UI’s extra crews.

posted by: The Rock on August 31, 2011  8:55am

I see a pattern. I think the Mayor is using the UI to regain support in certain areas of the city.
Morris cove not supporting DeStefano, First to get electric back.
East rock not supporting DeStefano second to get electric.
Westville third because it’s where DeStefano lives and they semi-support him.
Could my assessment be correct?

posted by: Morris Cove Mom on August 31, 2011  5:15pm

@The Rock, I think you’ve found it!

@Zalman Alpert, that’s exactly what I was thinking.  It’s one thing for trees to block cars, but power lines underground would have prevented so much of the fear, panic, and loss of food and property.  It’s one of the many reasons Manahattan’s power and phone lines are under the ground.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 31, 2011  5:20pm

I ditto Zalman Alpert’s comment.

I wish the city had agressively pursued the recommendation to burying power lines that was suggested over 100 years ago in the Report of the New Haven Civic Improvement Commission by Cass Gilbert and Frederick Law Olmsted in 1910.

posted by: Sara S on September 1, 2011  11:18pm

Regarding the Rock’s post: all of East Rock does not have power yet. We are still out on Lawrence St, now five days after the storm. Tree-clearing crews were here yesterday, but no sign of any officials today. Hope we get it back someday!