Monday, November 2, 2009

Red Ribbons 'round Your Neighborhood

by Mark Gilliland for The Hudson Independent (Nov 2009)

Have you seen those telltale red ribbons suddenly appearing on street trees in your neighborhood? It's a sign of line clearing operations along Primary (4K volt) feeds occurring in parts of Irvington and Dobbs Ferry. Such work is being undertaken by Con Ed and its contractors starting mid October running through November.

Federal and State law requires that utility companies "maintain the right of way" from disturbance due to limbs or falling trees. This means lots of pruning and typically requires returning to an area according to a 3 year maintenance cycle.

Street trees located on Village right-of-way easements fall under the jurisdiction of the local Department of Public Works. Con Ed must get village approvals for such trees. For trees located on private property, Con Edison is required to contact the property owner (leaving a "notification card") to obtain permission.

What gets cut? Con Ed's guidelines indicate a required clearance of 10 feet on sides and below power lines, 15 feet above power lines. Limbs and branches within this power line clearance envelope will be pruned back. Even major leaders may be removed. According to their consulting arborist, ANSI standards for tree pruning are followed such that if more than 1/4 of a tree's crown would be removed during pruning operations, the entire tree gets "condemned". A red ribbon tree.

Often there are trees near the power lines which are badly diseased, dying or dead, presenting a real hazard not only to drivers and pedestrians, but to reliable electrical power during storms and high wind. Other factors include the species of a tree (with fast growing, brittle trees at greater risk to failure, therefore being targeted for removal.) More red ribbons!

Finally, small saplings and young trees growing directly under power lines will be removed if they are a species which typically grows above a certain height. Again, red ribbons.

Although Con Ed reports that its emphasis is on tree conservation via studied pruning, sometimes the results can be upsetting. Consider when a tree's branches are enmeshed with power lines: significant pruning is required to achieve clearance - resulting all too often in a v-shaped "Bozo" tree canopy such as inflicted upon Irvington's Main Street Callary Pears.

If one of your trees is the unfortunate recipient of a red ribbon, the final trauma is yet to come: Con Ed does not grind or remove any stumps. Nor will they replant.

A word to the wise homeowner - before planting under the wires, google online for a list of trees (from Con Ed, Cornell or elsewhere) which show species OK for planting under power lines such as Dogwood, Redbud, Cherry or Amelanchier.


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