Sunday, November 29, 2009

Con Ed Petition - Take Action Now!

Just in from our neighbors along Sprain Road, Ridge Road and Underhill Road:

Citizen Action Group to Save Our Woodlands

Join your neighbors in forming a citizen action group to stop Con Ed from clear cutting our Woodlands.

As you well know, Con Ed has initiated “Tree Trimming” activities in our area that has resulted in the destruction of hundreds of acres of woodlands, as well as, the use of toxic herbicides to prevent re-growth, particularly on the Catskill Aqueduct, that end up in our drinking water.

Con Ed has chosen to discontinue a policy of pruning and maintenance and has adopted a new 20 year maintenance plan without any regard for the impact on the environment or the quality of life of the residents in the surrounding area. Not to mention, the economic impact on property owners, particularly in densely populated suburban areas where visual buffering can add a significant value to one’s home.

For many of us, it may seem as if it is too late. Our goal now is to stop further destruction and begin a massive replanting initiative on both public and private lands. We also insist that a sound barrier wall be constructed along the Spain Brook Parkway in residential areas to muffle the sounds of constant traffic and air pollution.

To sign the petition please fill out the information below and send to:

Tom Bracken
491 Ridge Road
Hartsdale, NY 10530

Telephone Number (optional):
Signature (required):

For more information please contact Tom Bracken: or try this new address

Download petition as PDF file
to print out, fill out, mail in.

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
I recent was emailed a copy of these guidelines to study in more detail. The guidelines are full of potentially nebulous or outright contradictory statements in my opinion (but I am not a legal expert...)

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

Friday, November 27, 2009

Free Con Ed PR?

In this week's Thanksgiving holiday issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise there is a new article which focuses upon the Sprain Road/Underhill Road area clear cutting along the Catskill Aqueduct.

The article does interview several local homeowners, but unfortunately too much uncritical space is given over to comments from Dan Lyons of Con Ed - who provides thinly-veiled PR and endless excuses for what they did along these high tension lines... To state that Con Ed sees itself as an steward of the environment is an outright falsehood - as demonstrated over and over again by their on-the-ground activities. It might make Dan and other like him within Con Ed management feel better to think this way, but the fact remains that the actions of Con Ed and its contractor, Lewis Tree Company, are creating massive local environmental degradation.

It is not clear in the article exactly what the clearance guidelines are by actual PSC regulation - the buffer extends anywhere from 30 feet to 130 feet according to the Con Ed spokesperson. However, clear cut criteria for the wider clearance buffer is not provided - save for the general statement that any tree whose fall could possibly come within the 30 foot inner buffer for the high voltage lines would have been removed. Obviously, this would target larger, older trees in any woodland.

In actual implementation, there appears to have been no on-site evaluation of tree size vs. risk -- EVERYTHING was mindlessly removed up to the full width of the Con Ed easement (even after residents had been informed that only trees within the inner 30 foot buffer would be impacted - removed or pruned to this buffer limit, as required.)

While I am glad that The Enterprise has covered this story for the community-at-large to read about, I am disappointed that such a significant percentage of the article body was provided to Con Ed with no apparent fact checking by the reporter or the paper. The core story is not simply the removal of the trees nor Con Ed's shifting justifications - but whether or not Con Ed is re-writing its PSC mandated line clearing guidelines on the fly, hoping to create enough doubt so as to lessen public outcry.

There is, however, one interesting line of argument brought up in the article but not followed through in any depth: the issue of the statistical analysis (or lack thereof) behind the clearance guidelines put in place by Con Ed. The article does note that over the last 6 years regionally, no high voltage line outages have been caused by trees in the right-of-way. Additionally, the regulations relied upon by Con Ed are described as being "regulatory expectations" - a notable turn of phrase by the Con Ed spokesperson. Don't we as informed readers need to better understand the twisted path from "expectations" to actuality ("everything within a 130 foot buffer must be cut")??

The ancillary story is a much broader one, concerning the need for a widespread grassroots effort to speak up loudly and clearly against such forms of environmental behavior by Con Ed. Even if the current guidelines provide leeway for Con Ed to make endless excuses, it is still seen clearly by the public to be what it is: corporate environmental misdeed.

We need to raise our voices to our regional representatives and environmental groups to ensure these crazy activities cease - in the name of our own health, safety and survival. In the name of our tree heritage.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Updated Con Ed Target Streets for This Week

Tuesday 11/24/09
Removals on N Broadway

Wednesday 11/25/09
S Eckar, pruning
S Dearman, pruning
N Broadway removals
S Broadway X Ardsley Ave E lower stump

Saturday 11/28/09
Hudson Road West by train station (W17-W19)

We Need More From Con Ed and Our Politicians

I met with representatives of Con Ed today (again). I was advised that the NYS Public Service Commission is aware of what Con Ed is doing. I was also advised that the work in Irvington is about over. If we are able to arrange a meeting with the PSC and state lawmakers your suggestions make lots of sense. Another suggestion: We should ask Senator Cousins and Assemblyman Brodsky to ask the senate and assembly environmental committees to review what is happening and to schedule hearings. They have supoena powers and state lawmakers might be more inclined to work on this than the PSC.

I suggest that those on our distribution list contact Senator Cousins and Assemblyman Brodsky. This is what we want:

1) A meeting with the State Public Service Commission.
2) A legislative hearing of the Senate & Assembly Environmental Committees.

Con Ed is willing to give us a limited number of plants---the town will be receiving some plant for sprain road (near Heatherdell) next week. I anticipate that we will do the planting next week. This is for the clear cutting that happened a few years ago.


Is Anyone Paying Attention Yet?

The answer appears to be a qualified "yes!" Over the weekend, emails were exchanged which show that the political wheels are starting to grind into motion. However, as noted by both David and MJ's comments (appended below) - the notion of letting Con Ed "get by" with some simple screening plantings (to lessen noise impact) is a travesty. The ecological destruction in the Sprain Road area (which is most likely occurring unreported to date in other locations up and down the path of the high tension lines along the Catskill Aqueduct) is far beyond that - clear cut destruction of acres of functional woodlands. An in-depth analysis of the lost ecosystem services should be undertaken and appropriate restitution requirements be put into place.

- From Paul Feiner -

This will go out tomorrow. I think that a community meeting with state lawmakers and the PSC would be helpful. - PAUL FEINER

To: State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins
Assemblyman Richard Brodsky

Dear ---:

This letter is being written to request that your office set up a meeting with officials at the NYS Public Service Commission and residents of Ridge Road and surrounding streets that have been impacted by the Con Ed clear cutting. Some residents have called this a “crime scene”. Many trees have been cut down – some people feel that the trees that have been cut were not even near the transmission lines and were cut down for no valid reason.

We also would like the state to direct Con Ed to provide the community with some landscaping enhancements and to absorb the costs of noise barriers. The removal of trees has resulted in significant additional noise.

Thank you for your consideration.

Cc Nita Lowey
Senator Charles Schumer
Chair NYS Public Service Commission
Residents- Ridge Road

-- From Tom Abinanti --


I would be pleased to join you in this effort - even co-sign the letter if you would like.

As you will recall, several years ago I held hearings and drafted county legislation similar to Greenburgh's to control Con Ed tree cutting. I did not pursue it when Con Ed started working with the communities on trimming around feeder lines and when our research showed our jurisdiction questionable in close proximity to high-voltage transmission lines.

However, the latest Con Ed actions may require us to get involved again.

Tom Abinanti

Thomas J. Abinanti
Westchester County Legislator - Dist 12
914-328-9000 Tel/Fax

-- Comment by David Bedell, Sleepy Hollow ECC --

In an ideal world Con Ed would, if it violated the law, be required to restore the forest it has cut down. Ecological restoration is much more difficult and much more expensive than landscaping. Restoration would be both the right thing to do and perhaps the cost would be sufficient to actually change Con Ed's future behavior.

Some references:

David Bedell

-- Comment by MJ Wilson, Irvington ECB --

This work must be stopped until the environmental impact on all levels can be evaluated and planned for. The valuation of the environmental resources we have already lost is incalcuable. I cannot even imagine how the already damaged areas can be made whole in regard to stormwater retention, wildlife habitat, property values, visual/audio screening, regional visual identity, increased risk of invasive species intrusion into the disturbed areas.

Please act now to help us protect this vulnerable area of our County.

MJ Wilson

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Holding Con Ed Accountable

Sprain Road near Ridge Road

On Nov 20, 2009, at 4:44 PM, Paul Feiner wrote:
I spoke to people at Con Ed today. They will discuss landscaping remediation with me and town officials. I will keep you advised. PAUL FEINER

To which I responded:
What is critical is to get Con Ed to cease and desist from continuing clear cutting activity (such as occurred around Sprain Road and Underhill Road) "up the line" thru the rest of Greenburgh - and ultimately into other Westchester municipalities.

Coming up with a Town restitution agreement is good, but let's not give in too quickly. The degree of damage both to public land and to private land needs a thoughtful recompense. Simply planting a few trees won't be an appropriate response for many of the affected homeowners - or to our native wildlife.

Additionally, I believe that the NYC DEP and other state officials need to be contacted and filled in on what is happening. Con Ed may be exposed to much greater fines and other sanctions based upon where and how they (or their contractors, Lewis Tree) acted.

Sure, Con Ed will want to quietly paper over this "crime scene" with a quick agreement with Greenburgh - so as to minimize negative blow-backs. In the longer term, without sufficient negative publicity and blow-backs, they will never stop this sort of activity leading to extreme environmental degradation.

If you agree that Con Ed needs to be stopped from further activity like this or if you believe that their line clearing in the village has been inappropriately executed, then please take a few moments to contact the PSC (Public Service Commission), our regional State Assemblyman and State Senator and the Governor's Office.

Contact information is below (in two recent postings from today and yesterday.)

State Politicians' Contact Info

Relevant contact info for our local districts (Greenburgh & Villages)

Paul Feiner ->

Thomas Abinati ->

NY State Assemblyman Richard Brodsky
(D) 92nd Assembly District - Westchester County (Greenburgh)


5 West Main Street
Suite 205
Elmsford, NY 10523

LOB 422
Albany, NY 12248

NY State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins
(D) 35th Senate District


86 Main Street
Yonkers, NY 10701

(Tel.) (914) 771-4190

(Fax) (914) 771-6045


State Senate of the State of New York
Albany, NY 12247

(Tel.) (518) 455-2585

(Fax) (518) 426-6811

NY Governor David A. Paterson

To Write To The Governor:

David A. Paterson 

State Capitol
Albany, NY 12224 

(Tel.) 518-474-8390 

Email - via web form -

Updated Con Ed Targets for this Weekend and Next Week

Hudson Rd. West by train station (W17-W19)

Monday 11/23/09:
S. Dutcher: because of parking issues
Havemeyer X Deep Close: additional cuts to tree by customer request
Broadway, a few removals and minor pruning.
S. Broadway and Ardsley Ave East: lower stumps
Home Place: remove vine
S. Buckout: pick up debris and lower stumps

Wednesday 11/25/09 because of parking issues:
S. Eckar
S. Dearman

Friday, November 20, 2009

Had Enough of Con Ed's Actions?

Filing a Complaint with the Public Service Commission

On-line: You can file a complaint or review complaint statistics, comment on Commission proceedings; you may also ask a question about your utility service.

By Telephone:

  • Helpline (general complaints
    and inquiries):
    (8:30 am - 4:00 pm)
  • Competitive Energy Hotline complaints
    about Energy Service Companies:

    (8:30 am - 4:00 pm)
  • Hotline for terminations of gas or
    electric service:
    (7:30 am - 7:30pm)

By Mail:
Office of Consumer Services
NYS Department of Public Service
3 Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223

The Commission is charged by law with the
responsibility to set rates and ensure that
adequate service is provided by New York's utilities.
The New York State Public Service Commission,
Department of Public Service regulates:

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.

Hey, folks - if this is not a wake-up call, what is? The "Con Ed Problem" reaches far outside our Irvington niche - extending to environmental destruction on a large scale.

The decision does not have to be between ELECTRICAL POWER and TREES. Con Ed needs to be reigned-in by the state PSC to prevent more of this madness. Write the Governor, your local state Senator and Representative. Contact local media. Speak out!

Con Ed Target Streets for Friday, Weekend and Next Week

Streets for pruning for tomorrow (Friday 11/20):


Brook Place

Barney Place

Random streets for go-backs and removals

N. Mountain Dr.

Due to parking constraints there are a few spots that will need clean up next week. In some cases there were cars parked illegally on no parking days.


Hudson Rd. West by train station (W17-W19)

Monday 11/23/09 because of parking issues:

S. Dutcher

Havemeyer X Deep Close

Wednesday 11/25/09 because of parking issues:

S. Eckar

S. Dearman

Con Ed Target Streets for Thursday 11/19/09

The streets for pruning in Irvington on Thursday:

S Broadway
Barney Park
Home Pl
Croton Rd
N Cottonet
S Eckar

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Con Ed Target Streets for Wednesday 11/18/09

The streets for pruning in Irvington on Wednesday:

N and S Broadway

S Buckhout

S Cottonet

Barney Park

S Dearman

Grinnell St

Croton Pl

Home Pl

N Hendrick

We need a Street Tree Master Plan NOW!

Posting contributed by Ann Acheson

I am first and foremost a "victim" of the tree butchering that took place on S. Dutcher Street, but am also a Landscape Designer, ISA Certified Arborist, Member of the Irvington Tree Commission and an activist for coming up with a Street Tree Master Plan for the Village of Irvington.

The Callery pear right in front of my house was "v" cut yesterday, leaving only 2 leaders, one hanging over the street and one hanging over my house (its just down from the picture shown in the posting from yesterday - below - but looks even worse!). There are a couple of really serious problems with this "pruning" that have nothing do to with aesthetics: first, it is well accepted that Callery pear trees are "weak wooded" - meaning that all the major leaders emanate from a single crotch, making the junction between leaders and trunk unusually weak. This is why they regularly drop their branches, even under "normal" circumstances. Second, these trees don't drop their leaves until well into December. When we experience a wet snow or an ice storm in the beginning of winter, these trees still have all their leaves, which become laden with snow or ice and become heavy burdens on the weak crotch. Third, since these are "street trees", they have only about a 3' wide strip of soil for their root zones, bounded on one side by a cement sidewalk and the other by an asphalt street. Not a lot of space to get all your nutrients and oxygen when you're 30' tall! Consequently the Callery pears are in serious decline all along Dutcher Street. Now with the extreme pruning, the tree is being asked to heal numerous wounds, which means it will need to use even more of its already practically non-existent reserves.

These Callery pears need to be cut down! They aren't trees anymore, they are mis-shapen bare trunks! There are only 3 of them left on our street, all of which have been butchered and have no landscape value, no aesthetic value and are imminently going to drop leaders onto cars or my house this winter. It is incumbent upon the Village to remove these trees! If possible, they should have Con-Ed come back and do it right now!

This is an ugly situation re-occurring on street after street in our Village. Given the Con-Ed policy and the reasonable desire of everyone to have their power supply uninterrupted, I think the Village needs to come up with a policy NOW about all of their street trees. There are clearly a lot of trees that can stay in place, but there are many trees that need to be removed and/or replaced because there are no long term prospects for them to be healthy and beautiful in their current locations. Why do we have street trees? To add beauty, shade, and maintain the urban canopy. These trees can do NONE of those things!

We need to have a discussion about how to replace street trees - whose responsibility (homeowner or village), can there be shared responsibility, who takes care of the trees, who decides which tree, who plants the tree, who removes the stumps etc. Speaking for myself and my immediate neighbors, we would be happy to share the financial responsibility and take care of new trees - anything to alleviate the eyesores that now dominate the front of our homes!

Here's hoping most of the rest of you don't come home to bozo trees today!

- Ann Acheson (edited by -mg- from original email circulated today.)

After Con Ed - What Next?

Once Con Ed has left the streets of the village, what should we as a community do to help recover and to be better prepared "next time"?

Read this white paper that I presented to the Village Board last night, Monday 11/16/09, outlining 8 specific steps to begin exploring.

After Con Ed - What Next? (.pdf)

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!

Recent Media Coverage

Rivertowns Enterprise Coverage
November 6, 2009
November 6, 2009 - Editorial
November 13, 2009

River Journal
November 2009

Monday, November 16, 2009

Con Ed Target Streets for Tuesday 11/17/09

The streets for pruning in Irvington on Tuesday:

S. Broadway
N. Cottonet
N. Dutcher
River Road
N. Buckhout

Damaging Pruning Along S. Ferris & S. Dutcher Streets

The Con Ed crews are at it again! This morning line clearing along S. Ferris Street continued and then began in ernest along S. Dutcher Street. The results are visually and aesthetically unsatisfactory, even though everyone understands the need for clearing growth off the lines for safety reasons. The on-site Asplundh supervisor, Dennis, received complaints from myself, Trustee Connie Kehoe and the village consulting arborist, Guy Pardee. The crew was subsequently told to go lighter in their clearances, where possible.

Along S. Ferris, this still resulted in a mal-shaped Bozo-cut cherry tree. Along S. Dutcher, where pruning continues at this afternoon, the result has been several large Pear trees with vertical "u" shaped notches cut into their crown.

Cherry Tree on S. Ferris

Pear Tree on S. Dutcher

In speaking with Guy about what could be done better, he observed that the wires around the branches of the cherry could be seen to be visibly frayed - the insulation having been rubbed off by the branches. A real safety issue. So hard pruning was unavoidable.

He continued: as the lines are much lower in this area, we are left with no choice but to prune since any tree planted would soon outgrow its vertical clearance. Thus, the best approach would be for the village to undertake a more proactive pruning program with its street trees - prune yearly with an eye towards keeping growth moving away from the wires, as well as keeping an eye on the overall shape of the tree aesthetically. Only with this sort of careful yearly work could we hope to maintain the trees in a manner that would be "safe" from future Con Ed defacement.

With average yearly pruning costs initially (for the first several years) being up to $250 per tree, the big question is -> How will the village pay for such an on-going tree maintenance practice?

Citizen's Tree Brigade

Last week demonstrated that without constant oversight on Asplundh contracting crews, the pruning of our street trees can go very badly, with blind conformance to maximum line clearance specifications rather than with a carefully honed pruning.

The village is given short notice each morning about what street segments are to be targeted by the crews. There are often two or more sets of crews deployed. Supervisory staff from Con Ed or Asplundh are often not in the immediate vicinity. And our own consulting arborist is only on-site when requested to be by DPW. All in all, this makes it very difficult for the village to reasonably monitor activities and ensure that no more egregious pruning occurs.

The best response is to have everyone in the village acting a "tree police" - watching where the crews are working and immediately notifying DPW when it appears that there may be pruning issues occurring. Also, as a homeowner, you can confront the crews and demand work stop until supervisory personnel are on hand to discuss the pruning in detail with you and/or with the village arborist (in the case of street trees).

Escalation Contact Number

In an emergency situation - especially if the line clearing crews are not responsive to your requests for lighter pruning - residents should immediately reach out to Greg Nillson (Village DPW) , who has numbers to directly contact Con Ed personnel as well as the Village's consulting arborist.

Greg's numbers: Office# 591-6044. Cell# 469-6267.

If unable to contact DPW directly, please contact the VIllage Administrator's office via the main phone: 591-7070.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Con Ed Target Streets for Monday Nov 16th

Plan for 11/16/2009:
S. Broadway
S. Dutcher
S. Ferris
N. Hendrick

Week Ending 11-21-09
S. Broadway
N. Cottenet
N. Dutcher
River Rd
N. Buckhout
S. Buckhout
S. Cottenet
Barney Park
S. Dearman
Home Pl

There will also be removals on various streets throughout the week of 11/21/2009.

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:

Pros & Cons (of undergrounding)

from -> Newton, Mass. web site.

Pros & Cons (of undergrounding)

Q: What is "undergrounding?"
A: Undergrounding is the process of burying overhead power, telephone and cable lines and removing the utility poles which currently hold them.

Q: What are the benefits of undergrounding?
A: Putting the utility wires underground serves many purposes. Some are purely aesthetic, some affect the system reliability, and others provide financial benefits. Here are some of the reasons to put the lines underground:

  • Aesthetics The overhead lines can only be described as ugly. The space they occupy is becoming increasingly congested with additional lines and equipment. Utility company practices frequently violate city and state ordinances. For example, double poles are left in place for more than the 90 days allowed, excess coils of cable are left dangling or tacked to a pole rather than being trimmed off or secured properly, and debris is left on the street.
  • Reliability Multiple studies have concluded that underground utilities are more reliable after the initial installation, with as few as one third the number of failures as are experienced with overhead lines on poles. An overhead system is more vulnerable to storm related outages, having poles downed by vehicles, and lines downed by tree limbs.
  • Safety Poles present hazards for motor vehicles and downed lines present electrical and fire hazards.
  • Value Property values increase when utility poles do not interfere with views and lines are put underground. A proof point is that nine out of ten new subdivisions opt for underground utilities even though they are initially more expensive. Also, realtors frequently have wires “air brushed” out of photos of houses that are on the market. This improves their appearance in pictures and, the realtor hopes, makes the asking price more palatable, but the buyer will be confronted by the existence of the wires upon visiting the home.
  • Trees Utility lines force unnecessary, unhealthy and improper pruning of trees solely at the discretion of the power company. This also contributes to the aesthetic issues surrounding overhead lines.
  • Efficiency Underground cables can use larger conductors resulting in less energy loss.

Q: What are the downsides of undergrounding?
A: Critics of undergrounding are quick to point out issues that accompany that effort. These are generally in the areas of cost and duration of outages.

  • Cost Undergrounding existing utility lines is very expensive. Cost estimates range as high as $1 million per mile just for the power lines in an area with the density of Newton. Undergrounding telephone and cable-television lines adds to the cost.
  • Disruption Streets have to be excavated and conduit installed, although pairing undergrounding with planned street reconstruction can minimize added inconvenience. Undergrounding on private property sometimes entails digging trenches in lawns or gardens.
  • Repair It is generally acknowledged that while failures are less frequent with underground cables, the average time and cost to troubleshoot and repair each failure that does occur is significantly higher. Estimates exist which suggest that the repair time is about 1.6 times longer and the cost can be as much as 4 times higher. The impact of repair can also be aggravated if it necessitates tearing up the road.

Q: Will undergrounding eliminate all above ground lines and equipment?
A: While undergrounding would eliminate all above ground lines, there would still be some equipment such as transformers that would have to be located above ground on concrete pads. There would also be some major feeders coming in to the City that would have to remain overhead.

Q: What happens to the streetlights when the poles are no longer needed because wires have been put underground?
A:Those currently mounted on the utility poles would have to be put on lampposts with the electricity fed from underground. Many communities elect to use decorative poles, especially in historic districts.

Q: Who bears the cost of connecting a property to the underground cabling?
A: This cost is usually borne by the property's owner. In some projects, multiple property owners join together to contract for the necessary private-property work; this makes it more efficient for the contractor and sometimes yields cost savings for each property owner.

Q: Does the entire City have to underground all the lines at the same time?
A: No. Many cities have chosen to underground utilities in certain areas first. Newton already has underground utilities in the area around City Hall and in some parts of Newton Center. The aesthetic benefits are very obvious in those cases.

Q: Who pays for the cost of undergrounding?
A: The City is responsible for securing funding for putting the utility lines along public ways underground and eliminating the utility poles. There are several means for providing that funding.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a law on the books, , which allows the City to mandate that the electric and telecomm utilities collect a prescribed surcharge on the cost of delivering their services. All rate-payers have to pay the surcharge when this funding method is used. The funds generated by the surcharge are collected by each utility and must be used to pay that utility's costs of moving their infrastructure underground. Because undergrounding existing utilities is expensive, this is a very slow way to fund such projects and has been used infrequently.

Other means of funding include bond issues and assessments to Business Improvement Districts. Significant savings can be achieved if the road is under construction and undergrounding is performed at the same time.

Q: Does the City derive a financial benefit from undergrounding?
A: Yes, but for a surprising reason: underground lines are subject to taxation, while lines on poles are not.

Q: Who owns the poles in the City of Newton?
A: They are jointly owned by NStar and Verizon. There is an agreement between the two companies that makes NStar responsible for maintaining poles in the portion of Newton north of Commonwealth Avenue and Verizon responsible for maintaining those to the south.

Q: Have any other Massachusetts cities and towns been active in recent years in burying wires?
A: Other towns in Massachusetts including Concord, Wellesley, Bedford, Duxbury, Nantucket, Holden, and Needham have completed limited projects to bury wires. Other towns that currently have projects underway include Chelmsford, North Andover, and Westwood.

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 11, 2009

Con Ed Target Streets for Thursday 11/12/09

No pruning Wednesday due to the Veteran's Day holiday.

Irvington streets for pruning on Thursday 11/12/09:

N. & S. Broadway
Main St
N. Hendrick
N. & S. Ferris
N. & S. Dutcher

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pruning of the Sycamores along S. Broadway

Today the Sycamores along S. Broadway got their much anticipated pruning. I want to thank Allan Douglas, senior arborist / inspector for Con Ed, and Pete, foreman of the Asplundh crew, for the thoughtful and careful job. Mainly suckers, deadwood and a few small branches were removed to improve line clearances and provide greater safety overall.

Bad Pruning Slideshow Updated

The slideshow has been updated today to include more instances of bad pruning as reported by village residents.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Con Ed Target Streets for Tuesday 11/10/09

Plan for 11/10/2009:

S. Broadway
Maple St
N. Eckar St
N. Dutcher St
Station Rd
Grinnell St
Croton Pl
N. Cottenet St
Home Pl
Jaffray Ct
N. & S. Dearman St
River St
Bridge St

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crews Done on Your Property? What to Do Now?

For those of you in the village who have suffered "pruning catastrophe" at the hands of the line clearing crews, it is uncertain what help or recourse, if any, there will be. Perhaps none. Current village code and state code does not require Con Ed to replant - or even to remove (grind) stumps. They have accepted the need to perform remedial pruning at some sites or perhaps the outright removal of the affected trees - you would need to contact the senior Con Ed manager to discuss your complaint/claim - Matt Glasser (

That said, we have been collecting these stories (and taking images of the affected trees) so that detailed documentation exists (as this has potential to be a public relations nightmare.)

I suggest that affected residents write detailed email to the Mayor and BOT. (There have been lots of incident reports given verbally, but few put into writing so far.) I would also suggest contacting the RIvertown Enterprise with a letter to the editor (due Monday 12 pm for that week's issue, 400 words max., must include full name and address for verification).

Perhaps each of you reading this could encourage your neighbors to email (to the village and the Enterprise) their experiences with dealing with the crews, the results of the pruning, etc., as well.

Only by all of us speaking up load & clear, without delay, will our collective anger be heard.

Friday, November 6, 2009

CON ED Pruning Targets for Monday Nov 9th

S. Broadway

Station Road

S. and N. Buckout St

Osceola Ave

Belmont St

Woodbine Rd

Astor St

River St

Bridge St

Media Notice!

Did you read the article on the front page of this week's (Nov 6th) Enterprise? There is good coverage of the Monday demonstration on S. Broadway as well as coverage of the issues and concerns of village residents.

Follow-up - the Nov 13th issue of the Enterprise did have a follow-up story on Page 3 covering the ongoing situation and interviewing various residents about their pruning problems. Unfortunately, there are many other negatively impacted homeowners who I hope will also be given a voice in the following weeks, as well!

Let your story be heard! Don't forget to write to the Enterprise "letters to the Editor" by Monday 12pm deadline for publication later in the week. Fax and email info is on the Letters to Editor page of the paper. They require that you provide your real name and address for consideration.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Wife Gave Me This Book Last Night

Won't you join me in speaking for the trees?

Poster Child Tree - Another Sad Story?

I was alerted today to a tree on village property (Memorial Park) which really serves for me as a "poster child" presenting the difficult trade-offs our village is facing regarding Con Ed's strictly-enforced line clearance guidelines:

Imagine for the moment a mature Oak tree (perhaps 24" diameter, 50-60 ft or more in height, perhaps half a century in age) growing tall in Memorial Park near the old black wrought iron fence along South Broadway. Imagine it to be a strong, healthy tree which arches gently out over S. Broadway forming a cool shady canopy, now turning yellow and brown in the fall.

Of course you already knew that this is not an imaginary tree, but real: a tree which is in perfect health and is one of the nicer trees along this stretch of Broadway. (The area is wooded, but there are many scruffy or immature trees around this one...) The tree is located about a hundred feet south of Station Road behind the iron fence on the west side of the S. Broadway. Can't miss it: it wears a red ribbon sealing it's fate.

With it's overarching canopy, this oak provides the New England like feel which makes this stretch of S. Broadway so comforting.

Due to current Con Ed pruning requirements, a good deal of the crown would have to be removed. The tree would most likely not survive this for more than a year or so. THEN, the village would have to pay the cost of removing a now dangerous dead tree.

Because of this assessment, the Parks Dept concurred with Con Ed to have it removed - really as a FUTURE cost prevention and safety measure for the village. (To be clear, I do not disagree with this decision based upon the constraints of the situation. I disagree with the inflexible pruning CONSTRAINTS imposed by Con Ed.)

Everyone involved knows this tree is in good shape, looks quite nice, providing both aesthetic as well as important eco-habitat value to the village and the park. And of course, it stands in the public street-scape of S. Broadway - serving as part of the inviting canopy zone around Station Road (headed north) which is our gateway to Main Street.

So, this is what I am calling a "poster child" tree - one that clearly demonstrates the need for Con Ed to back off of it's rigid pruning specs - for the greater benefit of the community. Left alone or with minimal pruning, this tree would (over the course of a handful of years) grow beyond and outside of the no-grow wire zone (much as our Sycamores have over time).

This tree could be saved if a reasonable effort was made to compromise - accept the risk that such a healthy tree will not cause wire damage. But there is not much time as the tree removal trucks will be getting to this area "any day now". Perhaps even tomorrow or early next week?

So How's It Going?

As far as Con Ed's responsiveness is concerned, you could say that it is a mixed bag to date:
  • good - Con Ed is re-notifying homeowners ahead of time of pruning activity. Look for orange Door Hangers and contact info to arborist.
  • bad - No indication of what property owner's rights are or exact recourse they might have.
  • good - Con Ed letting us know the (approximate) schedule of activity by area of village (street lists).
  • bad - Con Ed still not changing it's policy vis-a-vis the amount or degree of pruning clearance.
  • good - EXCEPT for the Sycamores along S. Broadway... They are getting special treatment by a senior arborist.
  • bad - So many properties with significant tree damage and no restitution is offered or available. (See Bad Pruning slideshow on this blog.)
  • good - Village now has consulting arborist in the field to work with Con Ed reviewing planned pruning day-by-day.
  • bad - Con Ed contractors do not report to village arborist, but are supervised by a Con Ed manager who decides if enough has been cut.
  • good - The village (Mayor, BOT, others) has been working hard to get the word out about the pruning and to get Con Ed to agree to ease off on the clearances.
  • bad - Unfortunately, the net-net is before you know it, the job will be over in 2 weeks and then we will all have to live with the results...
  • good - For tree removals, the village has a budget and a plan to remove stumps and replant appropriately chosen street trees.
  • bad - Individual homeowners with private trees (not on street easements) are left with stumps by Con Ed.

Escalation Contact Number

In an emergency situation, residents can reach out to Greg Nillson (Village DPW) , who has numbers to contact Con Ed personnel directly. Office# 591-6044. Cell# 469-6267.

Thank You to Village

I wanted to take a moment to thank the Mayor, the BOT and the village administration for everything they have done to date in regards of the Con Ed line clearing program.

Jon Siegel has been actively involved in discussions with Con Ed since this issue first "broke" into awareness last week. He attended the Monday meeting on S. Broadway concerning the Sycamores and is a strong supporter of preserving our village tree heritage. He continues to work with Con Ed on resolving homeowner issues such as providing advance notification (we now are being told ahead of time the schedule of target street segments each day) and finding some way to limit extreme pruning (including reasonable choice by homeowner to have such trees removed outright.) Jon has also established better communication and escalation paths between the village and Con Ed management.

Greg Nilsson at DPW (Public Works) has also been there every step of the way, ensuring that whatever can be done to better protect our village street trees is done without delay. He has brought on board a consulting arborist under contract to ensure that professional eyes can be brought to bear on day-to-day decisions regarding street tree pruning by the line clearing crews.

The members of the Board of Trustees have all been supportive, concerned and active. In particular, Walter Montgomery continues to reach out to senior Con Ed management with the goal of finding common ground for a solution, attempting to help avoid the extreme results some of our residents now have to face post-clearing. Connie Kehoe, who along with Jon and John Malone attended the Monday Sycamore meeting on S. Broadway, is also interfacing with residents concerned about the impacts of the pruning and removals.

Finally, Larry Schopfer has been picking up the various pieces and helping to glue it all together through the Village website and listserv notifications.

Thanks! Keep it up! The process continues...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bad Pruning Slideshow

Here is the set of problem sites documented to date. Please let us know of other locations we need to document.

URL to full screen slideshow:

URL to flickr set with detailed descriptions:

Pruning Schedule for Thursday and Friday

Barring rain delays, Con Ed has sent us this schedule for the rest of the week:

S Broadway
W Clinton Ave
S Buckout
Half Moon Lane
Oak St
Maple Rd
Willow St
Woodbine Rd
Station Road

Funny, if not Sad

Someone just emailed me to remind me that Con Ed is the corporate sponsor for the Grassroots "How Green is My Town" program.

Huh? In this case, our town is getting less green by the hour thanks to their (Con Ed) efforts. Money can buy a new media image, but can't conceal the truth forever. (The truth is out there...)

Sycamore Pruning Delayed

Today was not the day, after all... The pruning of the S. Broadway Sycamores was called off after only a few dead limbs had been cut due to equipment problems and due to the need to close off two lanes of Broadway so as to safely use the bucket truck. (The state requires advanced notification and plans for any such extensive traffic diversion - which had not been filed.)

It looks like next Tuesday is the current re-schedule date.

However, all was not wasted: the Con Ed senior arborist walked the line once again with the foreman of the line clearing crew, along with myself and the village's consulting arborist, Guy Pardee. We reviewed each tree in detail and ensured the foreman understood the limited pruning (mainly suckers and deadwood) to be done to each tree. Only two specific trees will require cutback of a branch or two. The net impact will definitely be satisfactory for the village.

When the work does recommence, the same senior arborist will be on-site all day monitoring the work. I plan to be there, as well. As I said before, my new Con Ed motto is "Trust but Verify!"

And as one reader has noted to me: "Proper prior planning prevents pruning postponement." How true.

Time to Speak Up!

We are getting reports continually about problems with the end result - the visual impact - of pruning, especially concerning evergreens. While they may be being pruned to proper horticultural standards to remove branches, the sight of 25-30 feet of denuded tree trunk is disheartening, making one feel sick to one's stomach. These trees will never "recover", aesthetically speaking. And when topped (as often occurs), will enter into a state of decline.

Equally of concern is the reported attitude of the line clearing crews when confronted by concerned homeowners - in these the interactions, the crews are often reported to be testy, unhelpful and having an attitude that "it's tough luck, there is nothing you can do about it. We have our job to do and Con Ed has the right to do it." They can provide no help in terms of escalation contact numbers or procedures. No Con Ed supervisors can typically be located. What can a homeowner do?

Below (posted Nov 3rd) is an outline listing of the sort of changes we should demand to see in the pruning process. Some of these the village is already undertaking. Some of them Con Ed might agree to. But fundamentally, we are asking Con Ed to self-police and self-adjust. This may be highly unlikely without a lot of external pressure.

There is nothing like the feeling of "eminent domain" forfeiture (not in legal actuality, but in principal) to leave a lingering anger and bad taste in one's mouth. It leads to cynicism and disbelief in the political process and a sense of impotence in the face of corporate agendas. Con Ed's goals to ensure us reliable power in the end create aesthetic and environmental havoc. What would you choose if you had a vote in the decision?

Hopefully by now you are asking "What can be done? What can I do to help?"

A larger, more concerted effort with other forces ("bigger guns") will be needed. And a much greater degree of public embarrassment about the situation needs to be placed squarely on the door step of Con Ed management. We currently have the attention of the Enterprise, the River Journal and the Hudson Independent. But we need to reach out beyond these the weeklies/monthlies. We need immediate high profile news coverage such as by Channel 12, Fox 5, NYT or even the Journal News. Without this, can there ever be enough negative publicity to force Con Ed senior management to take effective action?

Ready, Set, Action!

There is nothing magic here: Write your letters, make your calls. Contact news organizations, local and regional politicians at a county, state and national level. Contact your favorite environmental organization. If you have corporate contacts in business that might be of help, call in the chips! And of course, continue to put pressure on the Village by letting them hear your concerns. It takes a few minutes but speaking up has never been more important to maintain the quality of our village environment. Do it now - the Con Ed crews are out and working at full pace. We can't glue the trees back together again.

If any of you reading this have legal background, particularly in PUC and utility related matters, now would be a great time to compose a short summary of homeowner rights and recourse in regards to Con Ed pruning, crew trespass, advance notification and concurrence requirements, and so on. Email it to me and I will distribute this much needed info. Thanks.