Sunday, November 29, 2009

What is the ROW?

Read about the destruction that recently occurred along transmission lines in Pleasantville. (Note: link is a pdf file from the Examiner News website archives, so it loads slowly.)

This article reports that the NYS PSC (Public Services Commission) 2005 guidelines for high tension line clearing are as follows:
  • trees planted 30 to 60 feet from transmission line should not exceed 15 feet in height
  • trees planted 60 to 90 feet away should not exceed 25 feet
  • trees 90 to 120 feet should not exceed 60 feet
The guidelines are full of potentially nebulous or outright contradictory statements. For example, the PSC outlines the need for environmentally responsible management of the woodlands and the ROW (Right of Way) with an eye towards minimizing public distress and outcry at the impacts of line clearing. It advocates a culling & replanting scheme which emphasizes growth of appropriately scaled trees (compatible species) under or near the lines. Yet, elsewhere, it clearly states that a multi-year program must be developed by transmission line utilities to clear cut the ROW for to ensure highest margin of reliability and safety.

The guidelines discuss the notion of ROW (Right of Way) as being a measurement from the centerline of the transmission towers. However, in the case of Con Ed, their legal ROW extends the full width of the Catskill Aqueduct easement. So it seems Con Ed is "over-extending" the intended PSC definition of ROW from that based upon center-line measurement to that of boundary line measurement. In such cases as along the Aqueduct, this creates a VERY WIDE swath of clear cutting reaching well into private property, calling into question compatibility with the PSC's stated environmental stewardship and landowner rights goals.

Related to this issue is another guideline obviously ignored by Con Ed: the PSC has placed highest priority on careful management of woodland resources at highly visible locations such as intersections/crossings of the high tension lines with public roadways. This is to ensure that proper visual buffers remain in place by which to screen off the transmission corridor. Just how has this guideline been followed at the Sprain Road / Underhill Road clearings?

In summary, these are some conclusions reached by a quick reading of the 2005 PSC Guidelines. It seems that although the goal of quality of service in mandated, the means to achieve this uninterrupted service has many gray areas left to be ironed out. That is why we need to reach out and engage our politicians and the PSC in a dialog which helps to more rationally define guidelines supportive of all of the community's needs (not just that of uninterrupted power).

Read the guidelines: NY PSC Case 04-E-0822.pdf

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Crime Scene Along Sprain Road

Anyone of you who may have driven along Sprain Road or Underhill Road near Sprainbrook Nursery probably remarked upon the large overhead high tension lines which march through the area following the path of the Catskill Aqueduct. I am sad to say that this area has become a true environmental crime scene through the actions of Con Ed and it's contractor Lewis Tree Service.

Where there used to be woodlands containing mixed hardwood trees, some over 150 years old, now there are stumps and felled trees lying in piles. This is part of Con Ed's line clearing activity - in this case, their guidelines call for clear cutting a buffer 50 feet on each side of the towers as well as the application of herbicides across the entire buffer so as to create a sort of visual DMZ that simplifies fly-over monitoring of the transmission lines.

click to enlarge

Does it matter that large swaths far outside of the 50 foot buffer were felled?

Does it matter that trees on steep slopes and along scenic roadways were felled?

Does it matter that many homeowners were given no notification?

Does it matter that their property values have now been significantly impacted?

Does it matter that the local government (Town of Greenburgh) took no action to halt, slow down or mitigate this activity?

Evidently not.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trees Provide Ecosystem Services

Why Con Ed Should Be Required To RE-PLANT

We all know intuitively that there is a significant ecosystems services impact in removing mature trees, especially those which are natives. Not only do the trees provide habitat and food source, they generate oxygen, sequester carbon, provide cooling shade and mitigate stormwater impacts. These are all key reasons why I believe that Con Ed should be mandated to replant after removals.

Here's an article (pdf) on suburban biodiversity by Doug Tallamy - a researcher from Univ. of Delaware - about the ecosystem services of native trees and shrubs, outlining their foundational impact on the local food web. This is very important work covered in much greater detail in his book "Bringing Nature Home".

If we want to avoid extinction - our extinction as well as the biota we love around us (song birds, butterflies, foxes, etc.) - we must begin immediately to restore the landscape. This means planting native trees, shrubs, perennials and so forth, in a plan that (re)establishes functional layers (such as canopy, understory and ground level), habitat buffer zones and migration corridors.

Environmental restoration can begin one property at a time, your property and then your neighbor's and so on. The matrix of resources required to sustain native wildlife, to sustain the quality of our air, water and soil will be rebuilt and each of us will become reconnected to the natural world once again.

But as long as utilities such as Con Ed continue to be given free hand so as to maintain our electrical power fix regardless of environmental impacts, the consequences of their actions work directly towards the demise of our landscape, our habitat and our species. Ask Doug Tallamy - he would be quite certain of this!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Good, Bad, Ugly

The Good - Weeping Beech pruned carefully to minimize loss of flowing form:



The Bad - Hardwoods along S.Buckhout Street pruned hard (excessive?) to remove wire conflicts:

The Ugly - Some samples from around the village:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mayhem on Main Street

Yesterday, as the Con Ed crews moved slowly up the south side of Main Street, the results could only be described as a Hanna Barbera cartoon gone wild or perhaps Edward Scissorhands on acid. As if by magic, a row of "v"-cut trees appeared from Astor Street to Broadway, holding their Bozo heads up in the guise of "street trees".

Unfortunately, this will seem to most residents as some kind of black magic - cursed by seemingly under-supervised crews who attacked the trees with the sole goal of gaining maximum line clearances. Aesthetics? Community concern? Previous conversations about "going easy"?? Forget about it!

In perfect hindsight, the village should have assigned their consulting arborist to be on site all day, monitoring and "blowing the whistle" for a time-out when needed. This was not the case. Rather than "trust and verify", the village was lulled into "trusting" based upon the work being performed in other areas of the village, including the side streets immediately off Main.

When I phoned in my alert notification at 10:15am to DPW (the proper channel established for complaints), the village could not reach anyone at Con Ed directly - having to leave voice messages. The managing supervisor was not in the village, the Asplundh supervisor was not in the village. Even our consulting arborist was not in the village at the time. Meanwhile, one crew continued to hack away at the tree right across from Village Hall while another crew attacked a Honeylocust near the Aqueduct Trail crossing.

To be fair, putting aside the emotional response to the visual wreckage, we collectively as a village bear the brunt of responsibility: these trees are all unwilling symbols of the maxim "wrong tree, wrong place". The village should not be planting Oaks, Honeylocusts, Maples and so forth under the power lines. Appropriate trees which remain under 25 high at maturity are required. Until (if ever) the village floats a bond to bury the feeds along Main Street, a program to remove existing trees and replant with "safer" species is sorely needed.

Unless you enjoy waking up each morning to bozo cuts and perhaps far worst tree nightmares along Main Street.

Depends upon what you mean by "Pruning"

A landscape designer colleague of mine (who is an arborist and a member of the Tree Commission) recently sent me this comment about the Con Ed pruning activity in and around Irvington:

The problem is that when we discuss what Con Ed is doing, we are using the word "pruning", and are dumbfounded by the results because we have certain expectations of what a tree should look like after it is pruned. For example, I was astonished to see that many of the trees that Con Ed had freshly cut still had dead branches left in place. This is clearly not "accepted practice" for pruning as horticulturalists use the term - since we would follow the rule of first remove dead, dying or diseased branches, keep cuts of live wood to an absolute minimum, and don't hack off large leaders because the wound will be too large for the mature tree to be able to heal. This made me realize that Con Ed is NOT pruning trees, they're cutting out wood that is impinging on their lines. In other words, they're looking at the wires and saying where does this branch that is in the wires start, let me cut it off...

Cutting is not pruning. And the sad truth is that, because of that fact, the trees that are being cut are being put in a situation where they will have to use their reserves to heal from the cuts of live wood that have been made. They likely don't have enough reserves to do that, because, after all, they're street trees and their root zones are already very non-ideal! So they will go into decline, and will have to come down in several years anyway. Plus, some of the cuts have been made so awkwardly, leaving stumps of medium-sized branches and small side branches, that the plant hormone signals between roots and branches will be screwed up - this is how you get a plethora of "water sprouts", none of which can ever become a real branch, further compromising both the form and health of the tree.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bad Pruning Slideshow

Here is the set of problem sites documented for the distribution line clearing that occurred in Irvington Oct-Nov 2009. Please let us know of other locations we need to document.

URL to full screen slideshow:

URL to flickr set with detailed descriptions: