Sunday, February 28, 2010

Changes Needed in Tree-Cutting Policies - LOHUD Editorial

Journal News Editorial 2/28/10:

It is time for the the state and Consolidated Edison to take a second look at the effect recent policies have had on the landscape, natural habitat and neighbors along hundreds of miles of high-voltage transmission lines that criss-cross the Lower Hudson Valley.

Since the fall, residents in communities from Yonkers to Yorktown have been up in arms over Consolidated Edison's aggressive clear-cutting of vegetation from the pathways beneath the transmission lines. In Greenburgh, residents who once had a woodland buffer between their homes and a busy roadway have lost their visual screen and their natural noise barrier. In Pleasantville, the utility cut down century-old trees near a park.


Click here for the rest of the Editorial.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Follow-up Westchester BOL committee meeting concerning Moratorium resolution this Monday!


Westchester County Board of Legislators

COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT

Monday, March 1, 2010, 1:00 pm

AGENDA

Items for Discussion:

Ø     Electric Transmission Line Vegetation Management
The committees will continue review of legislation calling for a moratorium on Con Edison’s tree cutting program and a revision of New York’s Public Service Commission requirements.
Ø     Approval of Minutes
Ø     Any other business before the Committee

_________________________



Location:      Michaelian Office Building
                        148 Martine Avenue, 8th Floor
                        White Plains, NY  10601

Contact:         Christopher Crane
                        T: (914) 995-2104
                        E: cmc1@westchestergov.com

[If you do not wish to receive future Environment or Energy Committee announcements, please e-mail Christopher Crane]

# # #

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bullet Lists - Talking Points

Here are the two "Top 5" Action lists edited down to short bullet items, easy to remember sound bites...

Top 5 Fixes for Transmission Line Clearing Projects
  • Restitution or mitigation for affected homeowners and municipalities.
  • Public review and update of original PSC 2004 SEQR filing.
  • Modernization of Vegetative Management guidelines for ROW.
  • Advanced notification by utilities including written description.
  • Improved supervision and QA of line clearing contractors.

Top 5 Fixes for Distribution Line Clearing Projects
  • Communication: improved notification of public & private property owners.
  • Restoration & restitution: removal, re-plant, remuneration.
  • Improved supervision & training of crews including incident resolution process.
  • Encouragement for municipal tree pruning and maintenance programs.
  • Public education: “Right tree in the right place.”

Recent Media Coverage of BOL Committee Meeting



The Feb. 23rd issue of Journal News had this coverage:

County Vows to Revisit Tree-cutting Flap
Greg Clary - gclary@lohud.com


A man works near Jackson Avenue in November.
Consolidated Edison has cut trees along its power lines.
(File photo by Ernie Garcia/The Journal News)


WHITE PLAINS — Residents packed a committee meeting of the Westchester County Board of Legislators on Monday afternoon, looking for help in shutting down Consolidated Edison's buzzsaws.

After an hour and 20 minutes, all they got was a promise that there would be another meeting on the tree-cutting controversy soon.

Mitch Perl, a Thornwood resident who came to voice his anger about trees taken down near his property, wondered why there was only an hour meeting alloted to something that is so clearly upsetting residents.

"I think the cutting needs to be stopped today," he said.

Democratic county lawmakers Peter Harkham and Martin Rogowsky, leading a joint meeting of the board's Energy and Environmental committees, apologized to the 50 or so people who attended the 3 p.m. meeting, saying they had to adjourn because a separate 4 p.m. meeting was scheduled in the same room.

Complaints against Con Edison's three-year tree-cutting program center on a wide-swath cutting style that takes down smaller trees and bushes to forestall other problems.

Also cited were contractors with little supervision and inadequate communication with homeowners.

Seeking county action, residents presented a resolution calling for a moratorium on the cutting, and petitioning the Public Service Commission to review the 5-year-old cutting regulations it imposes on utilities statewide.

Con Edison officials attending Monday's meeting spoke about the need to maintain the electrical grid and how trees can interrupt power when allowed to grow too large near transmission lines.
Public Service Commission officials pointed out to agitated crowds in Greenburgh and Pleasantville last month that the 2003 blackout of the entire Northeast originated with two tree contacts on a local transmission system in Ohio.

Residents understood the need to protect the lines and the power that serves their homes but they said they wanted more oversight of the cutting crews and a more reasoned cutting strategy.
They also wanted replanting and other remediation.

"We want restoration, replanting," said Dennis Adinolfi, who lives on Remsen Road and saw his backyard among the photos shown to lawmakers on a projector. "It looks like an F-15 came and dropped napalm. I have flooding in my backyard that wasn't there before the trees were cut."

County lawmakers say they will take the issue up again as quickly as they can, but residents say nothing will change as long as there is no penalty for a utility clear-cutting trees along its transmission lines.

Legislator Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, was the least patient of his colleagues.

"I'm extremely disappointed with Con Edison," Abinanti said, addressing utility officials. "Why don't you you just pour concrete and get it over with. ... I'm fed up."

Abinanti said the utility could find other ways, regardless of Public Service Commission regulations, to work with municipal officials and homeowners to come up with a balance between protecting electricity supply and the environment.

"This is a green county," he said. "You're destroying the environment here."



OTHER COVERAGE:


This week's Examiner (2/23) has an extensive article reporting the BOL committee meeting, as well as an editorial (see page 3 of pdf) in support of the LORAX Moratorium resolution.

The North County News (2/24) also has essentially the same article reporting the BOL committee meeting. (See page 5 of online pdf.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Excerpts from NYS Public Service Commission Order In Case 04-E-0822 Issued & Effective June 20, 2005

See end of this posting for a link to the full Case document.

All undesirable vegetation within a ROW should be tracked and removed in accordance with the degree of threat it poses to the transmission facilities. P. 13  


No tree having the characteristics of what has been called a "danger tree" should ever be permitted to remain on a ROW, including in buffer areas. Side trees, trees outside the ROW (that due to their condition or location) pose a particular danger to the transmission facility, are what the utilities should designate and track as "danger trees". P. 13  


For consistency sake, the Commission will define a "danger tree" as any tree rooted outside of a ROW that due to its proximity and physical condition (i.e., mortality, lean, decay, cavities, cracks, weak branching, root lifting, or other instability), poses a particular danger to a conductor or other key component of a transmission facility. P. 13  


They (TOs) must continue to evolve and develop effective danger tree programs that incorporate the appropriate balance between attempting to attain zero tree-caused outages and the corresponding cost, public acceptance, and environmental impact of these programs. P. 13.  


Each utility has established wire security zones around conductors into which vegetation should never enter, and wider priority zones that, when vegetation enters, trigger immediate or future clearing activities to ensure that the vegetation is not allowed to continue to grow into the wire security zone. …As a general rule, for clarification, any undesirable vegetation rooted within the ROW that in any way encroaches into a priority zone is to be completely removed to the floor or ground-level of the ROW. … As a general rule, for clarification, any undesirable vegetation rooted within the ROW that in any way encroaches into a priority zone is to be completely removed to the floor or ground-level of the ROW. Mere trimming of such undesirable vegetation rooted within the ROW so that it no longer encroaches into a priority zone is not an acceptable or cost-effective practice. Any undesirable vegetation rooted outside of the ROW that in any way encroaches into a priority zone is to be trimmed to the edge of the ROW consistent with industry standards in effect at the time of trimming. Centerline easements, without definite ROW edges, should be interpreted and applied by utilities in a manner that any undesirable vegetation that in any way encroaches into a priority zone is removed completely to the floor. Application of these rules will provide a natural and practical limit on clearing within the ROW, such that they will not result in any unnecessary clearing. P. 20-21  


Each utility has established priority zones that, when vegetation enters, trigger immediate or future clearing activities to ensure that the vegetation is not allowed to continue to grow into more restrictive wire security zones. … remove undesirable vegetation that in any way encroaches into a utility-established priority zone. P. 24  


Vegetative buffers on the ROW are the exception to the general rule …. Buffers are maintained at high use road crossings and other areas of high visual sensitivity, primarily for visual amelioration or unique environment preservation. In many cases they were established as mitigation measures during the construction of new lines, often as a condition of approval, or over time based on the concerns of adjacent landowners. In some cases, the buffers consist of undesirable tree species that must be constantly trimmed. Buffers of tall growing trees are a known area where vegetation-caused outages can occur …. The Commission's goal is for the utilities to inventory the buffer areas, evaluate whether they are still needed, assess whether it is feasible for any tall growing, incompatible vegetation found in them to be removed and replaced with naturally occurring compatible species or newly formed vegetated berms, and to establish a schedule to complete the conversion or elimination work within the next vegetation management cycle. P. 26  

Prepared by County/BOL Staff.



The full Case 04-E-0822 document can be downloaded as a pdf.


Notes from This Week's Greenburgh Town Council Work Session

On Tuesday, Feb 23, 9:30AM the Greenburgh Town Council meet in a work session. The LORAX Moratorium resolution was on the agenda. Mark Gilliland was present to provide an overview and answer questions.

There was interest in seeing the 2008 Rockland County resolution passed in regards to O&R clear cutting activities. (MG supplied a copy to the Board as a follow-up after the meeting.)

One concern was that even during the moratorium, Con Ed might try to continue to remove trees under the "danger tree" exception. The resolution could be updated to ensure that the Town Forester was notified about and approved "danger tree" removals during the moratorium.

Other issues raised included the lack of mitigation for current activities, property value impacts and the concern for the potentially rapid spread of invasives and other such undesirable environmental impacts. Excessive use of herbicides for ongoing ROW management was also discussed.

Paul Feiner moved that the Resolution be placed on the March 10th Town Council session for public comment and council vote.

Notes from This Week's Westchester BOL Joint Committee Meeting

Westchester BOL Environment & Energy committee meeting notes - 02/22/10 - mg -

Well over 50 members of the public and a few local press attended this meeting, acking the conference room to well beyond capacity - overflowing into the hallway.

Con Ed spoke first. They had an entourage of 6 or 7 people at the meeting, but only three came up to the committee table to present - Milo Blaire (VP Elec. Transmission Systems), George Czernniewski (Con Ed Section Manager, Transmission Lines) and Mike Amato (Field Manager).

There were no big revelations by Con Ed. The basic message is they are doing what they do based upon PSC and federal requirements - so as to avoid heavy fines for non-compliance incidents. They do not mitigate or do replant restoration. And they are doing clear cut because it is cost effective. (Etc.)

They did say they are starting a program of improved communication and notification of municipalities and property owners - with an enhanced description of the scope of work printed on the notification cards, for example. Also, an update to info on the web site describing the working guidelines. They will plan to meet with local officials and will "walk the line" with them ahead of time.

A question was asked by the committee about how they will ensure that their contractors understand the actual scope of agreed work, as well as questioning if they are even properly trained or not.

Chris Crane (Committee co-ordinator) and Stewart Glass (Executive Director, Public Utility Service Agency) then presented background materials about the clear cutting - including a set of effective slides showing end results as well as locations of downed trees vis-a-vis distant transmission towers.

Anne Jaffe and Mark Gilliland presented the LORAX resolution in greater detail and explained the 2 basic goals of 1) immediate moratorium on current ROW work and 2) revisitation of PSC regulations through a process including scientific & public input.

John Tomlin from Andrea Stewart-Cousins office also spoke and described her recently introduced resolution in the state senate (S6825 - which calls for utilities to notify 60 days in advance and to hold a public meeting 30 days before clearing activities commence).  This made Tom Abinati assert that the ASC resolution provided no solution at all... Imagine - if during a perscribed public meeting with Con Ed, the public or municipality did not agree to what Con Ed proposed. Then what was the recourse? Con Ed could simply say "tough" and go and do what they wanted to anyway. They had, after all, held a public meeting. Thus, the letter of the proposed law would be fulfilled. Tom's point was that there is no teeth to the resolution nor is there a 3rd party or means by which to arbitrate the hypothetical  difference in opinions between Con Ed and public. 

My own thoughts (after the fact of the meeting) on this review/arbitration process are posted in the previous blog entry (immediately below).

Other speakers included the Supervisor Susan Siegal of Yorktown and the Deputy Mayor Mindy Berard of Pleasantville. Also a professor from Pace Environmental Law (Jamie Van Nostrand). Supervisor Siegal indicated she was in favor of enhanced vegetation management standards, advanced public notification & meetings, more & better oversight of work crews, marking of trees to be removed, proper mitigation and cleanup, and addressing security issues such as ATV access to cleared ROWs.

The committee chairs indicated they would have another meeting very soon to review the actual CONTENT of the resolution in detail. They suggested they would also make time for public input - but no date was specified.

Tom Abinati complained strongly about how the legislature had danced around this matter, considering various pieces of legislation for a number of years - each time deferring to Con Ed when they suggested they "got it" and would change their ways. Tom said he was done waiting for Con Ed and was unsatisfied with what they had done over the years. He was ready to vote and pass the moratorium legislation NOW.

Besides Tom, 3 or 4 BOL members are also co-sponsors of this resolution.

Background on Blackouts

The following may be very useful:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Blackout_of_1965
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_blackout_of_1977
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Blackout_of_2003
http://blackout.gmu.edu/home.html

Con Ed and the PSC have often repeated the simple claim that "trees caused the 2003 blackout". This implies that the system as a whole is still extremely fragile despite the experience gained in the major blackouts.

In fact, the PSC Order of 2005 begins with the statement:

"Given the inherent vulnerability of New York State's electric power grid to system outages that can be triggered by individual component failures, and the potential serious consequences in terms of economic, personal and societal losses that may be suffered in a "blackout" by the people and communities affected, electric system reliability is of primary concern to the Commission."

As we discuss vegetation management, we should ask the more general question of why the system remains so vulnerable in an era of terrorism and increasingly chaotic weather as a result of climate change.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

UPDATED FEEDBACK on Draft Legislation Regarding Utility Line Clearing Public Notification

Here is the legislation recently introduced into the State Senate by Senator Stewart-Cousins regarding Transmission Line ROW clearing. This bill effectively requires advanced notification and requires a public town/village meeting to allow discussion of the work project with community feedback.

There are many issues with this concept in that it does not go nearly far enough to begin to solve any of the current problems and issues. Here are some of these issues (updated base upon discussions resulting from this week's Westchester County BOL Energy & Environment committees joint meeting on Monday):

1) The bill should more clearly state what the nature of the 60 day notification consists of. This should be advanced notification to each property owner (private or municipal) by mailing or door cards which clearly spell out the scope and nature of the work. The card notification should also have a contact phone or email by which to set up an on-site consultation.

2) A written record of notification should be maintained indicating that the property owner has concurred with the plan. No work by utility or its contractor should occur without this proof.

3) Besides advanced notification, there should be a requirement to clearly survey & mark the boundaries of the ROW before any work commences.

4) All trees to be removed should also be clearly marked.

5) No enforcement mechanism is defined to ensure such advanced notice to property owners actually occurs. (Current regulations and vegetative management plans require notification now, but the results are spotty at best.) Who holds oversight for this? What can be done to ensure proper oversight occurs?

6) What if at the community meeting (or the on-site one-on-one meetings) folks don't agree to the work being proposed by the utility? There is no process for mediation or mitigation called out. (Why wouldn't the utilities position simply remain: "PSC is making us do this"??)

Public review of environmental concerns relating to planned actions traditionally falls into the category of a SEQR Environmental Impact Statement - which is supposed to outline options by which to minimize and mitigate any undesirable environmental impacts. However, Con Ed (and the other Transmission Utilities) are not required to produce an EIS for transmission line work as their actions fall under a "master" SEQR finding by the Public Service Commission from 2004.

Thus, there is currently no mechanism by which public input can be heard at a local level, nor can such input serve to induce a modification of utility plans or of the PSC- approved vegetative management policy.

The solution is not simply to require Con Ed (or other utilities) to hold public meetings for review of planned actions, but also should be to require that the environmental and property value impacts of such proposed work be fully outlined and effective restoration / remediation / mitigation measures be agreed upon by affected parties. (Yes, this is effectively a SEQR-like solution, but one in which the utilities are not given a "free pass" by the PSC. So why not just require a full SEQR to be undertaken in this situation?? Perhaps the local municipality could be assigned as the "lead agency" for review.)

A further necessary extension of this would be the need to define a (public) arbitration process by which acceptable mitigation can be reached - as it is certain that the utilities will want to do less than the affected property owners desire to have done... (But which agency would adjudicate such arbitration? The PSC? No, they have "failed" in their oversight already!) For the SEQR process now, the last resort now is filing an Article 78 action. This seems too extreme of a step to have to make simply to ensure the utility does not negatively impact your property or local environment. It puts the legal burden on the homeowner or the municipality - which is not where it should be, but rather on the utility!

7) Advanced notification does not begin to address the full range of issues concerning property value or environmental impacts of the line clearing work. This can only occur if the original (deceptive & illegal "short form"?) PSC SEQR from 2004 is re-opened and a full public review process instigated. Out of this process, the ROW clear cut guidelines would need to be modified to reflect current scientific and community concerns.

8) Mitigation requirements for impacts of recent clear-cut activities on homeowners and municipalities are not addressed, either.

Members of the GEF LORAX working group will be meeting with the Senator and her staff to discuss these issues and propose possible solutions.



A resolution with a similar intent (but significantly different language) was passed by Yonkers City Council on Feb. 9th, 2010, requesting advanced notification of and consideration of concerns expressed by property owners. However, this resolution also is limited in that no mechanisms are asserted or described by which to achieve these goals.

A copy of this resolution can be accessed here. An excerpt follows below:

BE IT RESOLVED, the City Council of the City of Yonkers respectfully requests the PSC to review their relevant rules and regulations and consider amending them to allow for more meaningful community input before projects are undertaken that place undue burdens on neighborhoods.

Westchester BOL committee meeting concerning Moratorium resolution this Monday, Feb 22, 3pm



*** COMMITTEE MEETING NOTICE  ***


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  February 16, 2010
Contact:   Christopher M. Crane ChrisC@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2104 (office)



WESTCHESTER LAWMAKERS CONSIDER CALL FOR MORATORIUM ON CON ED TREE CUTTING PROGRAM


What:             The Westchester County Board of Legislators Committees on Environment and Energy will have a joint meeting discussing Consolidated Edison’s recent tree cutting along electric transmission line corridors.  Both committees will, also, address legislation calling for a moratorium on Con Edison’s tree cutting program and a revision of the State’s Public Service Commission requirements

Who:              Energy and Environment Committee Members
                        Representatives from Con Edison
              
When:            Monday, February 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Where:          Westchester County Board of Legislators Committee Room
148 Martine Avenue, 8th Floor
White PlainsNY

Why:              Recent tree cutting and clearing along electric transmission line corridors has raised many questions and concerns among homeowners and municipalities that border these lines.  Con Edison operates and manages the transmission lines, which span from Yonkers toYorktown.


# # #

Modified Border Zone - Tiered Vegetation Management



Here is a diagram from the Sierra Club which illustrates how a tiered approach to vegetation removal in the border zones of the transmission line ROW could be achieved. This shows exclusion zones (clearance zones) based upon wire sag and wind sway and is based upon federal clearance guidelines for 200kv and 500kv lines.

Con Edison Transmission Line Tree Trimming Schedule



Diagram from FAC-003-2 technical white paper

January – June 2010

January
New Castle

February
New Castle
Yorktown

March
Yorktown

April
Yorktown
Carmel
Putnam Valley

May
Carmel
Putnam Valley
Kent

June
Putnam Valley
Kent
East Fishkill

Comments on Con Ed Rate Increase

Here are some interesting comments supplied to the PSC regarding the hearings on a Con Ed rate increase. They outline in particular how the current costs reflected in Con Ed's submission do not cover the true costs of proper vegetative line management or any required mitigation due to over-zealous line clearing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yonkers Passes Transmission Line Clear Cut Moratorium

The city council unanimously passed the LORAX's Transmission Line Clear Cutting moratorium.

A final version of the resolution is available here.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

O&R Vegetative Management Plan

Since we have only received an extensively redacted vegetation management plan from Con Ed in response to repeated FIOL requests, the next best thing available for study is the un-redacted plan of it's subsidiary Orange & Rockland.

Here is the press release that came out from O&R when the management plans were updated and released. It clear states that O&R had gone over board on it's clear cutting the ROW under 134kv (and lower voltage) lines in their region.

This recent article from the Journal News shows that the O&R vegetative management plan still has a lot of issues. Note at the end that the town is left with the task of replanting trees along the park trail. No restitution by the utility company.

For a laugh, here is the redacted Con Ed plan.

ISA Journal Articles on Transmission Line Vegetation Management

This article, entitled "New Diagrams and Applications for the Wire Zone–Border Zone Approach to Vegetation Management on Electric Transmission Line Rights-of-Way", presents interesting techniques for transmission owners that are conducting ROW management using the wire zone-boarder zone methodology. It argues that not all ROW areas under the conductors need to be treated as "wire zones".

The authors wrote a previous article on IVM (integrated vegetation management) in ROWs.

This ISA journal would appear to be a leading journal on arboriculture. It may have heavy authorship by academia that are sponsored by utilities. There is a large amount of info freely available from back issues, such as:

INTEGRATED VEGETATION MANAGEMENT ON AN ELECTRIC TRANSMISSION RIGHT-OF-WAY IN SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA, U.S.

BIOLOGICAL VEGETATION MANAGEMENT: AN ALTERNATIVE TO CHEMICAL PESTICIDES

PLANT SPECIES RICHNESS ON AN ELECTRIC TRANSMISSION RIGHT-OF WAY USING INTEGRATED VEGETATION MANAGEMENT

Timing of Cut-Stump Herbicide Applications for Killing Hardwood Trees on Power Line Rights-of-Way

Designing and Implementing Utility Line Arboreta

Comparison of Structural and Noncompacted Soils for Trees Surrounded by Pavement

Residents’ Attitudes Toward Street Trees in the UK and U.S. Communities

TREES AND WIND: A PRACTICAL CONSIDERATION OF THE DRAG EQUATION VELOCITY EXPONENT FOR URBAN TREE RISK MANAGEMENT

As well, some of you may already have seen EPRI research on the subject. No reports are available for download but here is some interesting info.

Also, EPA has entered a memorandum of understanding with Edison Electric Institute and others on ROW management.
Full MOU available here.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Transmission Line Clearing Moratorium Legislation - Updated with Final Versions

The Transmission Line sub-committee of the GEF LORAX working group has just released it's model legislation calling for an immediate moratorium upon Con Ed utility transmission line clearing activity. The moratorium resolution also calls for the PSC to re-open it's 2005 "enhanced line clearing" guidelines so that this policy can undergo much needed public review. The clear cut ("scorched earth") policy clearly does not conform to federal regulations, nor does it embody any awareness of the significant effects of such actions on either private property values or on the environment.

The model resolution (updated - based upon final version passed by the County BOL) is available as a .pdf file and a .doc file. A "generic" cover letter (.pdf file or .doc file) is also a must read for background information, including the supporting samples of media articles and photo documentation.

We intend that this moratorium resolution will be taken up by local municipalities and by the County Board of Legislators in the near future. Please feel free to bring this material to the attention of your village Mayor and Trustees (or your town's Supervisor and Council). It is important that as many Westchester municipal governments as possible pass this moratorium request to ensure sufficient political pressure can be applied on the PSC and on Con Ed as our local utility.

Con Ed's Cutting Style Angers Residents

from The Journal News front page article 02/02/10
by Greg Clary - gclary@lohud.com (Note: original article from LoHud.com)


A Consolidated Edison crew works in Pleasantville
that were cut down by Consolidated Edison.
Resident James Holden said the area
"looks like Sherman went through Atlanta."
(Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)

PLEASANTVILLE — When James Holden saw what Consolidated Edison tree trimming looked like in his community, he thought of one image — the Civil War.

"It looks like Sherman went through Atlanta," Holden said of the 16 hemlocks lopped off on his Mount Pleasant property. "They just dropped the trees."

The utility right-of-way issue has become a new kind of uncivil battle, with one side swearing allegiance to reliable electric service and the other to a pruning philosophy that doesn't leave only stumps.

"The whole Northeast in the summer of 2003 was taken out by two tree contacts on a local transmission system," Jim Austin of the state Department of Public Service told agitated groups of citizens at recent meetings in the Hudson Valley. "Then in 2006 there was a major windstorm. Those two incidents caused elected officials to petition the (Public Service Commission) demanding better reliability. A consultant's report said the number one thing needed was more aggressive right-of-way management."

Austin's statements and other strong opinions from the state's utility regulator have pushed local residents to see the PSC as part of the problem, rather than the solution.

State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, brought the PSC down for the residents' meetings and to tour some of the backyards, only to see local ire move from Con Edison and its tree-cutting subcontractors to state bureaucrats who locals think are too relaxed in their monitoring of quality-of-life issues.

"I'm really concerned that this program has run amok," said Steve Lopez, a Pleasantville village trustee and landscaping professional. "It's unfortunately leaving the residents with bad taste in their mouth about a government agency that should be serving everybody."

The complaints center on a wide-swath cutting style that takes down smaller trees and bushes to forestall future problems. Also cited are contractors with little supervision and no connection to community concerns who are given leeway within property lines to protect all the utilities' wires from falling under a tree's weight.

"The sensitivity to any kind of pruning that would leave a tree looking decent is just completely missing," Lopez said. "Con Ed insists they leave notices (to let residents know about upcoming cutting), but nothing."

Austin said his agency has had to find a middle ground that is practical and responsive.

"As you can imagine, it's a finely balanced balance that it's very easy to go one way or the other," Austin said. "If we're too lax, the lights go out and people complain, and more importantly, people's lives are threatened."

Stewart-Cousins said she wanted to see better communication between the state, the utilities and the residents.

"It seems to me that the PSC could be involved in a number of areas and make sure that there is at least a standard of what is sent out, what the expectation should be ... and how we can make sure that communities and residents aren't devastated," she said. "We want to make sure that (the cutting is) happening because of safety and not because it's great to cut down a tree so you don't have to come back and do it again."

She said "this is something happening all over the state."

There's no debate on that score from Marvin Baum, whose parents' Bardonia home in Rockland is on the list for cutting by Orange and Rockland Utilities, a Con Edison subsidiary.

"There are not enough outages to go for such cutting," Baum said. "They want to cut 12 Colorado blue spruce trees at my parents' house that are 20 to 25 feet high, little more than halfway to the wires. There shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all solution."

Baum said without proper cutting, which he agrees is important, and without some replacement plantings, communities end up facing erosion and flooding problems even if there is no thought to aesthetics."

"Clarkstown has spent millions on flood mitigation," he said. "Cutting trees down contributes to that problem."

Allan Drury, a spokesman for Con Edison, said the utility maintains hundreds of miles of transmission and distribution lines throughout the Hudson Valley and has to protect service.

"It's all about reliability," Drury said. "The lines during the summer can sage, so there's a need for extra space there." He said the company just finished a three-year cutting rotation, handling a third of its lines per year.

"We do meet with public officials to let them know we're working in their area," he said. "You can call 1-800-75- CONED if you need more information."

Kate Glazer, Stewart-Cousins' legislative director, said her boss is pushing legislation that would require utilities statewide to tighten the leash on its cutting crews, have higher standards and give notice so residents can be properly prepared.

"We're compiling all the residents' complaints and forwarding them to the PSC," Glazer said.

"And we're in the process of having legislation drafted directing the PSC to require public hearings before a utility goes into a community, to let residents know the size and scope of what is proposed, in much more detail," she said.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Yorktown is the Next "Vegetation Management" Target

from email today:

I received word today that Con Edison will begin its clear cutting in Yorktown this week. They are starting in the south side of town and expect to be in the densely populated north side of town at the end of the month. Our situation is a little different in that they have been clear cutting and we experienced the “scorched earth” in 2004---and then 2005 and 2007 when they really increased activity. They have targeted certain areas more so than others. There has been no real rationale as to how they have proceeded. Now, they are coming back for the last few border trees. As usual, our town board is divided on what to do. That has been the problem here right along. I have been told that it was in part due to Con Edison threatening a prior town supervior with the “D” class of emergency repair. In other words, if you don’t go along with us, we will delay repair in the event of outages. No elected official likes to receive complaints from the public about lack of electricity.

We need to try to get a moratorium in place ASAP.

Patricia Podolak