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Tree-lined streets and power outages


The great tree debate in Pawcatuck is of particular interest to me. Living on Courtland Street, one of the streets involved in the issue, it was especially interesting to listen to the comments by fellow residents of the neighborhood who were concerned that our streets would be denuded under the utility company’s plan to trim trees near its lines. The proposed work stems from all the complaints following power outages during recent storms, and trees were a major culprit in the outages.

This is a tough one. Who doesn’t like the looks of a tree-lined street? On the other hand, who doesn’t feel that it’s ridiculous to look down a street full of trees with canopies hollowed out to accommodate the utility lines? That’s just unnatural, and who’s to say that such a bastardized tree won’t take down the wires anyway if it falls?

We’ve had a good deal of experience with falling trees at my house, as many of my neighbors would attest. In Hurricane Bob, a portion of a giant Norway Maple, which stood on the town right-of-way alongside the house, landed on the roof and caused damage to the chimney, gutters and soffits. Our newborn was sleeping in the room closest to the tree just to add even more drama at the time.

In another storm, a limb from the same tree came down, ripped the utility lines off the house and grazed the front porch, damaging the gutters. It also damaged a section of stonewall that runs along the front yard. Eventually, the town took down the tree, which was filled with dead branches and had been damaged, I was told, decades ago during road work.

In Superstorm Sandy, another tree on the town right-of-way came down right between our house and the neighbor’s house, damaging their porch roof but leaving us unscathed, though we had branches hard up against our kitchen windows until the mess was removed. We all marveled at how lucky we both were that more damage wasn’t done and how perfectly the monster landed between the two homes.

I’m neither a tree hugger nor a logger, but there is a happy medium where residential streets and trees are concerned.

Lets replace the giants that were planted a century ago — the few that are left in the neighborhood — with smaller trees that grow perhaps as tall as the wires but no taller. There are lots of species to choose from, and it appears we have some in the neighborhood now. It would be the best of both worlds, wouldn’t it?

And I can’t help but think that some of my neighbors who fear the work of a chainsaw and registered their complaints about the tree-trimming plan would also be registering complaints when the power is out, because a tree has ripped down a stretch of wire.

The power company guys are far from arborists, taking their time to prune judiciously, so I get the concern about aesthetics and even possible harm to the trees. But when the next blizzard hits, or just one of those wet-snow snowstorms that weighs down all the branches, we’ll all be cursing the irrationality of having large trees so close to utility lines — true lifelines in 2013.



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