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.

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