Following is testimony submitted to the state Public Utilities Regulatory Agency by two women from New Haven’s Prospect Hill neighborhood, concerning United Illuminating’s plans for massive tree-cutting near power lines. Click here and here for background stories on the subject.
Testimony By Ann Pecora Diamond
Good Evening, I have two comments and a question I wish to make:
1. Our utility lines need to be buried and our power grid completely updated.
I was raised in the Adirondacks where the winters ,and storms were routinely severe. Yet, we never lost power, because the power lines to our house were buried. The lines are also buried in much of Europe. When a local newspaper recently took a survey of readers on this subject, 75% of them also supported burying the utility lines. While it definitely would cost money and would take time, we need to start to make this investment. Constantly pouring money into the maintenance of a model and system that are by their very nature and design antiquated, unreliable and vulnerable makes no sense. That is just being penny wise/pound foolish. It is putting corporate profit over public service and responsibility. UI’s parent company just bought another gas company; how about upgrading the companies they already own?
We need serious, in-depth expert studies to plan for upgrading our power grid and for burying utility lines. Unsubstantiated, negative reports/comments from the utility companies are not adequate or sufficient responses to such a proposal. Communications companies also need to be forced to upgrade their antiquated systems, which are costing consumers more while providing lower quality services than those enjoyed by citizens of European countries. (Cable/broad band costs Europeans much less than it costs here and they get better service, because their lines are more advanced and protected.)
All progress requires investment, but constantly wasting money while not providing good service is just foolish. The expense of such investments could well be offset by the boost to the economy provided by good-paying construction jobs, not to mention the benefit trees, reliable service and lower maintenance costs would contribute. This isn’t a cost-only equation; and to portray it as such is to be less than honest. ...
Finally, even if every tree were pulled down the above-ground power lines will still fail in many ice and heavy-wind storms, which are predicted to occur more frequently as a result of climate change. They can be destroyed by animals, motor vehicles, lightning, rotten poles, planes and high water. Even one fallen pole can bring down a line in a domino effect. After Hurricane Sandy the people around Bridgeport were among those without power the longest, because UI’s transformer station flooded. Similarly, lightning brought down a rotten transformer pole in Hamden, which resulted in a loss of power for a week for those residents. Not one tree was involved. We need a better, cost-efficient and truly reliable system. Bury the utility lines. ...
2. I have been without power for a week at a time twice, but have not complained: When Gloria and the tornado hit New Haven, I was without power for a week at a time on both occasions. Since then I have not been without power once, in spite of several severe storms. The weak trees have already fallen; the ones that remain are fine. I did not complain about these outages and I am not complaining now. I did, however, convert my electric stove to gas. I would not sacrifice one tree over unsubstantiated promises that my power would never be interrupted again. They are too valuable and I am too grown up to imagine that life doesn’t include an inconvenience now and again….
3. Why are we using Lewis Tree Service, Inc.?: Lewis Tree Service, Inc. seems to be undertaking similar work elsewhere in the US to that it is proposing for Connecticut. I am curious to know, who came up with this plan to “trim and remove” so many CT trees? (“Enhancement” is a deceptive and dishonest use of language that is designed to deflect attention and responsibility away from the real destruction and perhaps greed that is involved. Remember torture is still torture, even when it is called “enhanced interrogation.” )
Did Lewis sell this plan to the utility companies or did the utility companies seek out Lewis Tree Service, Inc.? Since a $100 million contract for this NY-based tree removal company seems to be similar to other deals it has made in other states, I am suspicious about the motivation behind how such a drastic and profitable–for Lewis–plan came about. Also, given that they are paid by the hour and that they clearly employ laborers who have no particular training or commitment to our trees, isn’t this like putting the proverbial fox in the hen house?
What supervision and accountability are involved? We have instances in New Haven where the tree warden couldn’t explain how a tree was destroyed; the only information she appears to have is that UI/Lewis was sent out to trim the tree. UI denies destroying this tree, but no one else seems to have been involved. ...There’s no accountability and no way to restore that damage. ...
The following is a little research on Lewis Tree Service, Inc. that documents many problems with this company and their work:
Suit resulting from death by one of Lewis trucks:
Suit resulting from death of Lewis worker by falling branch:
Letter Submitted By Martha Alexander
Dear Ms. Santopietro:
“Enhanced tree trimming” procedures to date do not require signatures of abutting homeowners in advance to authorize tree work. A signed agreement is of tremendous importance in protecting the interests of both sides contractually and such signed approvals should be on a clearly outlined timetable relative to the tree work. Notifications sent by UI of proposed trimming should be by certified mail.
The work that Lewis Tree Service has done to date for UI in New Haven is absolutely NOT the quality one would expect from trained arborists. The quality of Lewis’s work combined with their 8 foot “V” guidelines will do much to destroy the value of our homes, increase our air conditioning costs, contribute to erosion and crime according to studies that have been done. Property values, crime etc damage the fabric of a city and reduce its appeal to existing & potential residents & businesses. These are problems New Haven as a city must grapple with, not UI.
Since these are city trees, the city should be in charge of hiring arborists and instituting guidelines. The city tree warden with a panel of citizens should be given the responsibility to select & hire trained arborists preferably on a ward by ward basis. And as a city in need of jobs, we should hire New Haven or at least CT based arborists, not out-of-state tree companies like Lewis.
An additional option might be for those homeowners who would like to do so, to hire their own arborist, pay them out of pocket, and have the finished treework be subject to the City Tree Warden’s approval. That is what many people in our area have done to date for years without problem. I would think that the trees that caused outages hadn’t been trimmed.
Our neighborhood is part of the Prospect Hill National Register of Historic Places District. The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for a Historic District specifically include street trees as one of the elements which help create the character of a historic district.
Additionally, the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act permits legal recourse for the unreasonable destruction of the state’s natural resources and properties or districts listed on the National Register. Lewis’s quality of work is in opposition to this legislation.
When our house was built in 1915, elms were planted in the tree belt. They had all died, so we replaced them with disease resistant Princeton Elms. Because of the vase-like or “V” configuration of their branching, Elms have traditionally been considered an ideal tree to be planted around electrical lines. An arbitrary “V” cut 8 feet away from the electrical lines on all sides is an unnecessary, brutal & uneducated approach. Elms have multiple trunks which at the right time can be pruned so as to remove any that would later cause a problem. Trained arborists can prevent outages AND preserve the beauty of trees at the same time—their standard for such work is whether the tree limbs constitute a reasonably probable threat to the functioning of the electrical grid in the near term.
UI’s CEO and its board should look very carefully at what they are proposing and consider doing a little more homework before taking irreversible steps. Here are some questions that need to be answered:
1. Over the last 10 years what was the average number of outages on an annual basis?
2. Are any kind of projections of future weather cycles possible?
3. Is it possible that these last two winters are an aberration with respect to weather cycles to date?
4. What is the estimated cost of enhanced tree cutting for New Haven?
5. What was the cost of remediation from the storms over the past two years?
6. If both tree trimming and remediation costs are being passed on to UI customers, what are those costs comparatively & collectively?
7. UI’s CEO James Torgenson earned $2.5 million last year, a 47.8 % increase in salary from from his $1.3 million compensation in 2006 when he was frist hired.
8. In light of Torgenson’s compensation and intent to purchase Philadelphia Gas Works for $1.86 billion, Torgenson & his board owe their customers greater transparency as to why we, their customers, are being asked to foot the bill for work we don’t want done, by inferior out of state contractors they hired without our input, especially when UI doesn’t seem to have a shortage of money.