Saturday, January 30, 2010

Con Ed Charges Highest Residential Rates of Any Major Utility

from the NY Post:

Con Ed wallet shock
By BILL SANDERSON
bill.sanderson@nypost.com

Last Updated: 10:35 AM, January 29, 2010

Eskimos, hula dancers and lobstermen are about the only Americans who pay more for electricity than Con Ed customers.

Con Ed again charged the highest residential rates of any major utility in the 48 contiguous states in 2008, federal numbers released yesterday show. Only folks in Alaska, Hawaii, Fishers Island, NY, Block Island, RI, and some tiny islands off Maine paid more.

At an average 24.18 cents per kilowatt hour, Con Ed's 2.3 million residential customers saw their electric bills jump by 12 percent over 2007. The sky-high rates meant a Con Ed customer who used 300 kilowatt hours of electricity per month in 2008 had an average monthly bill of $72.50.

People in Monroe City, Mo., or Yadkin, NC -- paying the average US residential price of 11.26 cents per kilowatt hour -- shelled out $33.78 for the same amount of power.

"Many costs are higher in New York than in other parts of the country," Con Ed said in a statement.

The utility said blame for the high bills extends far beyond the company. High state and local taxes are a big culprit, amounting to about 26.5 percent of a typical residential customer's bill, Con Ed says.

Another cause may be management of the state's electric grid.

Right under grid bosses' noses, energy traders took state electric rate payers for between $240 million and $415 million in early 2008 -- a big hunk of which came from Con Ed customers' pockets.

And critics of grid bosses say the auction system under which wholesale electricity is sold is set up to skew prices higher.

The state Public Service Commission promised lower rates when it deregulated electricity a decade ago. Instead, Con Ed's prices have increased compared to the national average. In 1999, Con Ed's residential prices were 94.5 percent higher than the national average. In no year since 2000 have Con Ed customers paid less than double the US average residential price, the government numbers show.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

State Agency Has Failed Public in Tree Fiasco

Editorial from Jan 12th edition of The Examiner - (see page 8):

It was admirable that three representatives of the state’s Department of Public Service spent more than four hours last Saturday listening to the angst of residents and local officials.

Little else can be said about their visit despite the best efforts of State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and municipal officials to help their constituents.

In separate public forums in Pleasantville and Greenburgh, similar scenarios played out. A healthy turnout of residents came to village hall and town hall, respectively, in hopes of getting some straight answers into why hundreds of trees needed to be wiped out by Con Edison contractors when much of that vegetation posed no threat to the utility’s transmission lines.

There were also questions regarding possible mitigation on land that had been decimated by Con Edison’s outrageous actions.

For the most part, the answers were few and the explanations that did come were inadequate.

At this point, the ironically named Department of Public Service and its commission are the main culprits in the ever widening tree-cutting fiasco that has pockmarked thousands of acres in Westchester and throughout the state.

It is clear this department, which is supposed to protect the public interest, has failed spectacularly in its responsibilities. Con Edison, which is constantly looking for fresh rate hikes, will get away with whatever they can unless the regulatory agency clamps down. Similar to SEC regulators a few years ago in the financial sector, the oversight is poor and they are too closely aligned with the entities they are supposed to regulate.

Yes, part of protecting the public’s interest is to make sure there isn’t a repeat of the crippling blackout that left most of the Northeast and a chunk of eastern Canada in the dark during an August 2003 outtage. But anyone who has seen before-and-after pictures of Pleasantville’s Nannahagan Park knows that many of the trees cut down there in November weren’t going to plunge the eastern seaboard into darkness. Ever.

Jim Austin, a deputy director for the department, and David Morrell, who is one of the people responsible for devising the vegetation management guidelines around the state, sounded more like apologists for the utility companies than impartial regulators.

Austin repeatedly reminded the Greenburgh crowd he wasn’t an attorney when confronted with a substantive question, explained that transmission lines can sag as much as 20 feet during the summer and noted that the federal government’s guidelines are even more aggressive than New York State’s.

What happened to the vegetation management program? There were guidelines that had been on the PSC’s Web site that provided recommendations that tree limbs should be at least a certain distance from the transmission lines. Any trees that weren’t within that distance would be trimmed or left alone.

Until there is a better explanation, it would appear that the guidelines have been ignored because Con Edison and other utilities don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of returning every few years to do more maintenance.

Oh, and don’t forget to put more cash away later this year when electric rates are on the rise again.

Pleasantville To Con Edison: Stop Cutting Our Trees

An article from Jan 12th edition of The Examiner (p. 1) article by Sam Barron on Con Edison. (See also the page 8 Editorial):


State Sen. andrea Stewart-Cousins, right, gazes at some of the bare landscape last Saturday in Greenburgh during a site visit. Earlier in the day, Stewart-Cousins listened to angry residents in Pleasantville who urged state officials to clamp down on Con Edison.




Village residents delivered a clear message to state officials last weekend: they want Con Edison to stay away from trees in Pleasantville.

About 30 people attended a special meeting on Jan. 9 at Village Hall to demand that Con Edison stop cutting down trees near its transmission lines. Th e meeting was organized by State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins and attended by members of the village board, County Legislator John Nonna and representatives of the state’s Department of Public Service.

“We all know what this has done to the community,” Nonna said. “Everyone has concern and anger about the destruction that occurred.”

The meeting was the latest chapter on the issue that started in November in Pleasantville when Con Edison clear cut an estimated 80 trees at Nannahagan Park. No representatives from Con Edison attended the meeting.

Village trustees said they are still pressing for a stop work order against Con Edison to save the remaining trees.

“These trees take too long to grow,” Trustee Brian Skarstad said. “You can undo 20 years of work in under an hour. Then Con Edison simply apologizes and just says ‘Oops.’”

Despite palpable anger toward Con Edison, Deputy Mayor Mindy Berard said the utility is still cutting trees seven days a week and has been gutting backyards and parks.

“We have had backyards totally get cut down,” Berard said. “One hundred-year old trees are just being dropped and left there. This is unacceptable. There’s lots of frustration and anger here and rightly so. We want a stop work order issued.”

Stewart-Cousins, who commended the residents for turning out for the weekend meeting, said that excessive tree cutting by utilities is a statewide issue, not just limited to the area. Later that day she attended another forum in Greenburgh and listened to similar anger from residents there.

Jim Austin, a deputy director for the Department of Public Service overseeing energy efficiency and the environment, said the call for tree trimming near power lines came after the August 2003 blackout that crippled the Northeast. This caused the state to hire a consultant and force utilities to devise a right of way management plan after the federal government ordered that vegetation that threatens power lines must be cleared.

“If they don’t own the tree or have an easement, they don’t have a right to do any work there,” Austin said. “If they are doing it, let us know.”

Residents responded that Con Edison has been doing work on private properties. Stewart-Cousins added that if mistakes are made, they can’t be reversed.

“We don’t allow them to run roughshod,” Austin responded. “If it can be shown it is your property, we’re ready to work with you.”

Skarstad contended that the swath of decimated trees has occurred because Con Edison ignores its own guidelines. The state officials said they would examine the matter.

Village resident Mary Doerr said that when she drives on the Sprain Brook Parkway, she notices that there are no trees to identify.

“It’s devastating,” Doerr said. “It’s blatantly disgusting. Everything has been wiped out.”

Con Edison’s practices has also decimated resident Jennifer Frawley’s backyard.

“It feels like they don’t even care,” Frawley charged. “It looks disgusting, it’s so bad.”

Reaction after the meeting among village residents regarding the effectiveness of the forum was mixed, with some expressing concern that it won’t have any impact.

“A lot of 100-year-old trees just get clear cut,” resident Gene Paulen said. “It makes me sick to my stomach. We’re also suffering a financial loss, with our property values decreasing.”

After the meeting, Trustee Jonathan Cunningham said nothing has changed on Con Edison’s end since they wiped out most of the vegetation at Nannahagen Park.

“Con Edison has to stop,” Cunningham said. “The commission has heard this before, but it still goes on. It’s ridiculous. Con Edison may have realized that they made a mistake, but they still have their plans in place from the last few months.”

Stewart-Cousins said it was important that the state realizes the extent of damage that Con Edison has caused and that she hopes to take a tour of Nannahagen Park with the Department of Public Service.

“We will see if we can’t tighten the reins on the utility companies,” Stewart-Cousins said. “All goals have to be met without creating a destructive environment.”

Mayor Peter Scherer, who did not attend the meeting, said he expects the village to receive compensation for the excessive tree trimming that Con Edison did in Nannahagen Park.

PSC on Hot Seat in Con Edison Tree Cutting Episodes

The Yorktown Examiner Jan 12th edition ran an article (page 5) on Con Edison and the transmission lines - by Martin Wilbur:

Westchester residents affected by what they believe has been overly aggressive tree-cutting by Con Edison near transmission lines are demanding answers from officials of the agency responsible for overseeing utilities.

Last Saturday, representatives from the Public Service Commission met with residents in two central Westchester communities in hopes of receiving explanations in response to the utility’s recent string of controversial tree-cutting episodes from Yonkers to Yorktown.

In 2005, the federal government established guidelines to prevent a repeat of the massive August 2003 blackout that darkened nearly the entire northeast and Ontario, Canada. The blackout was traced to trees that came in contact with transmission lines in Ohio that triggered the massive outage.

In New York State, utilities like Con Edison have been required to file and execute vegetation-management programs with the PSC to make sure there is no future threat to power lines, said Jim Austin, deputy director of the commission’s office of electric, gas and water.

“Improved reliability will come from much more aggressive right-of-way maintenance,” Austin said. “People are very ticked off when power goes out and people get ticked off when trees are no longer there. It’s a very fine balancing act.”

Residents who turned out for the well attended meetings Saturday afternoon in Greenburgh and Pleasantville bitterly protested what they said were misleading notifications that suggested there would be mostly tree trimming rather than tree removal. They also contended that there was no justification for the extensive amount of removal, arguing many trees that were cut throughout the county posed no threat to the power line.

“The trees would have to grow to 500 feet tall to interfere with the transmission lines,” said Marina Gaeleano of Pleasantville.

Others argued that the PSC has done a poor job in regulating Con Edison.

“This is a directive, a strategy that is used to obstruct,” said Jason Saipan of Greenburgh.

Austin and David Morrell, who devised the PSC’s tree-removal guidelines, said that utilities may do what is necessary to maintain power lines within rights of way or if the land is owned by other governmental facilities. They would need permission to gain access to private property. Austin said that utilities do not replace lost trees except on private land.

However, residents have argued that while tree cutting may have been done legally on rights of way, excessive clearing has destroyed beautiful vistas, eliminated screening and buffers for noise and has contributed to plummeting property values. Greenburgh resident Kristina Bracken said Con Edison cleared dozens of trees just beyond her property line that screened her from the Sprain Brook Parkway.

“What they did had nothing to do with protecting us from power outages,” she said.

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who organized the two meetings last weekend with the PSC staff, said that she had learned via her colleagues in Albany that there have been recurring communication breakdowns between utilities, municipalities and homeowners throughout the state.

While Stewart-Cousins did not rule out tighter regulation of the utilities, she said having forthright public discussions is a good first step toward highlighting what has gone wrong.

“If there needs to be stronger regulation, if there needs to be stronger communication, coordination, whatever is necessary, this is a very strong start and I think everyone is committed to making sure we get the changes that are necessary,” Stewart-Cousins said.

PSC spokesman Jim Denn said the commission takes the reaction from the various communities seriously and will take into consideration the information gathered on its site visit.

“Certainly, this visit has been very useful for use because it gives as a visual representation of what the issues are that the community’s concerned about,” Denn said. “The commission has great interest in making sure that, first and foremost, the utility is doing what it should be doing. Nothing more, nothing less.”

While Greenburgh and Pleasantville seem at the forefront of the fight against the clear-cutting, Yorktown has largely remained in the background, but that may change with the town’s new administration.

Supervisor Susan Siegel, who was not present at Saturday’s tour, has signed on as liaison to the town’s Utilities Oversight Committee, which is headed by Dr. Patricia Podolak, a longstanding supporter and collaborator of Siegel’s.

“I want to deal with it,” Siegel said recently. “We want to do something because the previous board did nothing.”

Podolak, who was present for Saturday’s tour, sent a summary of the meeting to town officials.

“What appears to be lacking,” Podolak wrote, “is a good understanding of the issues and an organized plan of action.”

Podolak went on to urge members of the board to request a “regional working group” be formed in Westchester County as soon as possible.

“All the affected municipalities in the county need to be heard on these matters and should not be left out,” Podolak wrote, adding that Rockland County may also be able to join the effort.

“It’s not a bad thing. We need to get everybody together,” Bianco said, adding, “The problem is nobody comes unless it’s in their community.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On the Radio - WVOX 1460 AM

I will be appearing along with Gerri Currall of The Sierra Club on the The Greenburgh Report radio show - hosted by Paul Feiner at 10:00AM tomorrow (Friday, Jan 22nd).



Here is an mp3 recording of the interview. (Large file: 47 Mb. This is the full 54 minute radio show including the newsbreak and ads - sorry - didn't have the time to edit this stuff out...)

Thank-you for listening and especially to those who called in to ask questions.



The station is WVOX, the "Voice of Westchester." The call numbers for the station are 1460 AM and their website is www.wvox.com (with a homepage link to their streaming media player).

Residents can call in during the program at 914-636-0110.

Please tune in and be sure to call in to ask questions or share valued comments!

Estimated Tree Valuation of Transmission Line Clearing

Based on numbers gathered during recent research, I have generated this yearly valuation estimate of the ecosystem services loss due to tree clear cutting:

How much land is affected?
25 miles (estimated distance north to south - the "height" of - Westchester County based upon Google Maps). 75 feet - average width of ROW along Catskill Aqueduct. Converted to acres, this is approximately 225 acres of clear cutting which has occurred in Westchester alone along this one transmission line.

How many trees is this?
According to the US Forest Service, the average number of trees per acre of woodland can range from anywhere from 100 to 1000+ trees, depending upon geographic location, tree density and specific site conditions. Let's use 100 trees as a conservative number of medium to large trees only. This results in an estimated total of 22,500 trees.

What is the ecosystem services value of these trees?
1 acre of forest can absorb 6 tons of carbon, ?? tons of pollutants, produce 4 tons of oxygen, and provide substantial stormwater mitigation & absorption. This does not include factors such as temperature moderation effects and shade/wind benefits or noise abatement, nor does it attempt to provide a wildlife habitat services valuation.

The estimated that the effective ecosystem value of a tree ranges from $25 (sapling) to $2500 (mature tree) per year. Using an average value of $250/year/tree, a conservative estimation of the yearly ecosystem valuation for the tree loss is: $5,625,000.

This "loss" is ultimately picked up by homeowners and local municipalities when dealing with the effects of the clear cut as they "diffuse" through the local environment.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tree Trimming and Vegetation Management - according to the PSC

This web page provides an overview of PSC vegetative management policy, including links to a selection of transmission line utilities' online vegetative management policies (typically simplistic overviews), as well as a "FAQ" section covering various questions and issues.

Upon reflecting further on the comments made by the PSC representatives at last Saturday's Greenburgh Town meeting, I have reached the conclusion that their explanations / analysis / justification for current "clear cut" vegetative management policy rests solely on cost avoidance by the local utility. It's less expensive to clear cut everything in the ROW so that repeat visits will not be required as frequently (avoiding the 3 year cycle of costs).

But this analysis is overly simplistic in that it weights only the costs to Con Ed (or other utility) rather than factoring in the entire economic cost which ultimately results - inclusive of local municipalities and property owners. When costs relating to stormwater damage and mitigation, noise & pollution mitigation, habitat loss, property value loss and so forth are factored in, then the clear cut scenario is revealed to be the MOST COSTLY approach of all.

It is time for the PSC to base it's public guidelines and recommendations on what benefits the common public good, not on what provides the least budget impact for utilities and their corporate partners.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Speak Out About Con Ed's Pay Hike Request!

The PSC will decide by March whether to approve one of two increases proposed by Con Ed. The PSC is accepting public comments until Feb. 2.

Consumers can go to the PSC Web site at www.dps.state.ny.us and fill out the "PSC comment form" located under the "consumer assistance" file, or they may call the commission toll-free at 1-800-335-2120.

PSC spokeswoman Ann Dalton said public input is "always" part of the equation in determining rate hikes. She said not every increase sought is approved.

When Con Ed Comes Knocking At Your Door

From the Sprainbrook Nursery e-newsletter Jan 15, 2010:

When Con Ed comes knocking at your door or drops you a card that they will be coming by to do some pruning and selective tree removal be aware. In the past they have followed a pruning program that would cut back limbs interfering with power lines. They have changed their attitude and are eliminating whole trees rather than spending time and money in pruning them. Westchester is known as the green County because of the lush foliage that inhabits our soils. Con Ed is not working with nature they are out to control it. They were very deceitful when they took down a large swath of trees that lined either side of the Aqueduct in the town of Greenburgh. In dismay neighboring properties saw their tree barrier to their property removed. In desperation they tried to rally a counter attack but timing was carefully picked by Con Ed., and the project took place on a Holiday weekend working long hours and through the whole weekend to beat the clock. There was no one to call and no one to rally and by the time a response could be assembled, the damage was done. A 14 man crew climbing trees, attaching lines high in the tree to be held on the ground, cutting with chain saws and pulling trees down to remain on the ground where they fell. Within one week a 6.2 mile stretch with up to a 120 feet on each side was cleared. Trees on people’s properties were cut in half with any limbs crossing over the Con Ed property line eliminated. Most of these trees are also destroyed and left with their overbearing weight to fall back towards private homes. So when Con Ed comes knocking at your door get the neighborhood to respond before they arrive. Get your town involved and work out a deal to save the trees way before they come. When they do arrive, make sure you are out there in force. We need to save our trees, they are what makes Westchester so great.

Many of the trees in Westchester are nearing the end of their life cycle and we need to embark on a massive replanting program. I need to give credit to the Greenburgh Nature Center who under the leadership of Anne Jaffe Holmes has coordinated Environmental projects and has put together a Committee to tackle this problem; and to Kurt Hundgen executive Director who has involved Greenburgh Nature Center as a facilitator. This, in my mind, is what Nature Centers should be about. Preserving nature, involving local communities and informing us about Nature and the important role it plays in our lives. Greenburgh Nature Center’s outreach to the community is bringing this problem to the forefront. Ongoing meetings will continue to address this problem. It requires a coordinated effort to solve it. We must save our trees and replant new ones. I will try to inform you when these meetings take place. Call Anne 914-813-1812 if you think you can be of help.

Below is an article I wrote at the time Con Ed demolished the trees on the Aqueduct that neighbors our Nursery. It depicts the emotional effect it can have on us.

Destroying our Trees: In the most brutal attack against nature Con Edison is taking down trees wall to wall on the Catskill Aqueduct. They have changed their policy from pruning to felling. In their path of destruction they have taken down 125 year-old Oaks, Maples, Beech and other species. . They have left a path of destruction taking away the home of our birds, shade for our bordering properties, and screening for the ugly power lines which run through our neighborhood. There is no regard for plant life and the many years it took to grow these beautiful trees. Con Edison is performing a shameful act against us and nature and should be condemned and stopped from continuing these ruthless acts.

There is a connection between man and plants; one much deeper than we may realize. Everything in the universe is connected. We need to learn to work with nature rather than try to control her. Trees are important to us in preserving our life on this earth. They are our longest lived plants. They protect us from the sun and wind and soften the rain. They prevent erosion. They provide food and beauty. They buffer sound and screen ugly sights. They purify our air and give us back oxygen to breathe. They provide us with shade and shelter. They provide a home for nature’s animal life. They provide a place for birds to perch and build nests in. When we go on a rampage to kill trees for monetary gain, we are killing a little bit of each of us who has lived in harmony with them. These trees were our neighbors and we loved them. The birds they housed provided cheerfulness and the squirrels that climbed them provided entertainment.. The trees provide psychological benefits and soothe us with their being, In a stressful world they were our companions. All things in nature are related. We are killing nature’s ecosystem, one we all need to live in harmony with. Many of us have grown up with these trees and to see their brutal death is killing a part of us. Stop Con Edison and the terrible acts they have committed against us all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stormwater Management Roundtable #2


Stormwater management and urban trees - go together like butter and popcorn (?) or something like that... (and salt?)

If you have not seen this yet, it should be an interesting workshop with a good overview presentation of best practices for residential and smaller commercial sites, to be followed by a hands-on breakout session making use of what you just heard/learned. I will one of the hands-on facilitators at this event.

Low Impact Development/Better Site Design
Greenburgh & The Villages
DATE: January 23, 2010 (snow date 1/30/10)
TIME: 8:30 am - 12:00 pm
LOCATION: Irvington Public Library, 12 South Astor St.

SCHEDULE:
8:30 am: Registration & Continental Breakfast

9:00 am - 12:00 pm: Keynote and Better Site Design Planning Exercise.

KEYNOTE: Low Impact Development/Better Site Design Principles & Techniques - What they are, Why they matter in flooding and water quality: Sandeep Mehrota, Chair, Hastings Environmental Commission; Vice President, Hazen & Sawyer P.C., Environmental Engineers and Scientists. Local examples of "Good and Bad" stormwater abatement projects.

Municipal Roundtable Site Planning Exercise: Local experts and resource professionals will lead and provide assistance to participants in reviewing sample site plans such as a single residential lot and a small parking lot.

Discuss lessons learned from planning exercise.

PURPOSE: Provide an understanding of low impact development/better site design principles and techniques applicable to our area and how they can be incorporated into the review of local development projects and site plans.

PLUS: earn three credits of NYS Mandatory Credit for Planning & Zoning Boards

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Planning Boards, Zoning Boards of Appeal,Conservation Boards, Village Administrators, Mayors and Elected Officials. (You do not have to be affiliated with Greenburgh or the Villages to attend. Open invitation!)

SPONSORED BY: Groundwork Hudson Valley/Saw Mill River Coalition, Greenburgh Nature Center and Greenburgh Environmental Forum, Federated Conservationists of Westchester

FUNDING PROVIDED BY: NYC DEC/Hudson River Estuary Program, Westchester Community Foundation, and US EPA Targeted Watershed Program



Stormwater Roundtable Registration Form


January 23, 2010 (Snow Date January 30, 2010)
8:30 am - noon
Irvington Library
12 Astor St.
Irvington, NY 10533
Registration Deadline January 18


NAME: _______________________________________________

TITLE: ________________________________________________

E-MAIL: ______________________________________________

PHONE: ______________________________________________

TOWN/VILLAGE AFFILIATION:____________________________

E-MAIL REGISTRATION INFORMATION TO EMILY AT: Emily@groundworkhv.org

OR FAX REGISTRATION TO: (914) 375-2153

More Information, contact:
Anne Jaffe Holmes
Greenburgh Nature Center
(914) 813-1812
ajaffeholmes@greenburghnaturecenter.org

The Legislative Problem to Address

from a recent email:

After communicating the Director of DEC Region 3, Willie Janeway, I’ve now identified an underlying problem that needs to be dealt with from a legislative standpoint. Article 8 and SEQRA were intended by the Legislature to apply to all boards, commissions, agencies, departments, etc., but when one of these entities violates the law (or, in the case of DPS, falsifies documents), there unfortunately are no enforcement provisions. As Mr. Janeway said to me, his department has no power over other governmental institutions and the only recourse is for a private individual to file an Article 78 which is time consuming and very costly – hence this rarely happens. Another problem with Article 78 is that it has a narrow window of just 120 days.

The State is looking to update SEQRA, but even before that process is complete (which might take years), I believe the State legislature should empower DEC for SEQRA enforcement against other agencies, which would hopefully eliminate violations. Also, there should not be a time limit of the DEC’s enforcement time.

Sincerely,

Marvin Baum

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

FOIL: Con Ed's Vegetative Management Plan

Request for Record of Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. Vegetation Management Plan and Any Supplement Filed to Such Plan in Case 04-E-0822

The foil request to the PSC sent last month for a copy of the latest Con Ed vegetative management plan was closed out today with the fowarding of a REDACTED document. Along with this came a letter from the PSC as well as a letter from Con Ed explaining about the REDACTION.

These documents are now uploaded and the links (above) will pull down the pdfs into a new window on your browser.

For the more curious researchers out there, here is a link to a master listing of PSC documents relating to Case 04-E-0822 (concerning transmission line ROW clearing). However, many folks report that they have not been able to download a selected file from this flash-based index/reference page...

Grassroots Action Required! Send your letters to State Legislators & PSC now!

Email from Paul Feiner:

From: Paul Feiner
Sent: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 4:16 PM
Subject: LEGISLATIVE RECOMMENDATIONS TO ADDRESS CON ED TREE CLEARING

This past Saturday members of the Town Board met with State Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins and the Public Service Commission to discuss the recent tree clearing that took place off of Ridge Road and the surrounding neighborhoods. [video here.] The Senator and PSC also attended a meeting in Pleasantville earlier in the day – and heard similar complaints from residents who felt that Con Ed cut down trees that did not impact the power lines.

The Public Service Commission representative advised about 100 people who attended the meeting that the PSC would investigate specific properties where there was improper or excessive removal of trees. If you provide me with specific complaints (and backup documentation) – I will forward them to the PSC.

Mark Gilliland of the Irvington Tree Preservation Project e-mailed me the following thoughtful recommendations that will be forwarded to NYS Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins and the PSC. If you support these recommendations – please advise our State Legislators, Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. You should also reach out to the PSC. Please send me copies of all correspondence. The recommendations that Mark made should be considered a first draft. Your additional thoughts and feedback would be appreciated.

Paul Feiner

Garry A. Brown, Chairman
NYS Public Service Commission
3 Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12223

Assemblyman Richard Brodsky
5 West Main Street
Elmsford, NY 10523

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins
Room 415 LOB
Albany, NY 12247

Transmission Line Trimming - Con Ed Tree Guide

This is what Con Ed says publicly about its vegetative management policy:


Transmission lines carry high voltages over long distances. They are located on property known as a right-of-way. Planting any vegetation on this property is prohibited.

Vegetation around transmission lines is managed according to state regulations designed to keep the operation of these lines safe and reliable. Trees capable of growing tall enough to jeopardize safety and reliability are removed from the right-of-way. Lower growing trees that do not interfere with maintenance crew access can remain on the right-of-way. Side trees located off the right-of-way, but with branches that reach into the right-of-way, are trimmed.

Qualified Con Edison contractors generally trim and/or remove trees along the right-of-way every three years. Some areas are visited more frequently. If you live adjacent to our right-of-way we will notify you before scheduled work begins.



It is interesting to note that the description and the diagrams would lead a casual reader to (incorrectly) infer that some form of "tiered" management was being implemented along the transmission lines.

Letter from Sprain Road Con Ed Victim - Must Read!

From the email:

I had a meeting with John Banks, VP of Governmental Relations from Con Ed and we discussed this issue and others. I walked them through my home and communicated that the loss of habitat, noise level from the parkway and the sight line were my biggest concerns. As well as, new erosion issues on the Catskill Aqueduct. Each spring as the ground warms and the ice melts a huge volume of water moves through our property and will no doubt cause flooding on the Sprain Parkway behind my home.

I gave Mr. Banks a copy of a survey of our property and highlighted areas that would need to be substantially planted to create a barrier to the ROW and the Sprain Parkway. We also discussed replanting Sprain Road so that the character of our neighborhood can be restored to a beautiful country road. Paul Feiner has started a donation and community replanting initiative and I think Con Ed can easily donate a generous number of trees to show good faith.

I told him that, I would prefer if they recreated the natural sound and wind barrier by a massive replanting initiative along the the ROW, rather than a concrete wall. Perhaps 4 or five rows of staggered 10-12 ft evergreens planted 8 ft apart would do the job and replace some of the habitat. I suggested Blue Spruce and cypress trees as options because it is on their list of trees they are willing to plant.

He asked about the meeting on Saturday. I and I said that Senator Cousins stated that the lack of meaningful communications between Con Ed and the PSC, local governments and individual homeowners was the root of the problem.

I suggested that a Town Hall meeting should have been organized prior to beginning the work in which Con Ed stated that under current federal mandate they were required to aggressively maintain this ROW. Had they stated that they understood the impact not only on the natural habitat but also on homeowners and a plan was implemented to both plant prior to the clearing and afterward to minimize the impact, this community would not have had their life quality devastated. Whether Con Ed is required to do this by by law or not.

I also told him that the Senator sees a need for regulation. Con Eds recent project is an example of what happens when a corporation is left to essentially govern itself. Within the federal mandate for maintaining the ROW, there must be special attention paid to heavily populated residential neighborhoods.

I told him that my understanding from reading the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force: Final Report on Implementation of Recommendations is that there were a number of causes for the 2003 blackout. While it was initially triggered in Ohio by tree limbs coming into contact with Conductors, it was also stated that these trees were in direct contact with power lines and had not been adequately managed. High temperatures and windless conditions combined with increased amperage draw stressed the supply lines causing additional sagging, thus making direct contact with the poorly maintained trees. Also in the report it states that “Inadequate reactive supply was a factor in most of the events.” and “the assumed contribution of dynamic reactive output of system generators was greater than the generators actually produced, resulting in more significant voltage problems.” In other words the backup generators were not adequate to handle the amperage load or voltage needed. A lack of coordination of System Protection Programs(relays tripping), inadequate communication between Utilities, and lack of "training of operating personnel in dealing with severe system disturbances" were also noted in the report as causes for the blackout.

I told him that although tree contact was the initial cause of the black out in Ohio, the situation snow balled because the entire system was tenuous at best. The report stated that there were a greater number of instances of other system failures than there were instances of tree contact. I told him that I living what Con Ed has done about the trees, and that now I would like to know whether adequate back up generators have been installed? Has a computerized safety system been created and installed so that the utlities are aware when relays are popping? Is there an emergency protocol in place so that States can now communicate and cooperate in a coordinated effort in such an emergency? And finally, have the administrative employees and utility technicians been properly trained to deal with such a large scale blackout?

He agree to pass my informantion on and would contact me again with a proposal.

I told him I would expect to have an agreement by the end of March, so I could begin to dig the holes and prepare the soil.


That's the way to keep the pressure on! The idea of pre- and post-meetings by Con Ed with the community and the municipality to clearly review intended actions (and as follow-up, to survey actual results) is key to ensuring this sort of man-made environmental disaster is not inflicted on our communities again. But part of the review process needs to include a robust means for the community (both private and public stakeholders) to ensure that no work is undertaken without a fully-vetted EAR (environmental assessment) and general agreement as to the impacts and restitutions. It's called PUBLIC OVERSIGHT - and we urgently need this now!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Irvington Chainsaw Massacre



Terra Firma, the Lower Hudson Valley Sierra Club's newsletter has gone out in the mail and should arrive in members' postal mailboxes this week.

It is also available from the group's website via a link from the home page entitled "Read the Jan-Feb-Mar 2010 Terra Firma".

Read my article in this issue entitled "Irvington Chainsaw Massacre" here. It discusses both recent distribution line clearing and transmission line clearing in our area by Con Ed.

To comment or feedback with your own stories, contact the newsletter editor, George Klein via email.

Top 5 Required Actions/Fixes for Transmission Line Clearing Projects

There must be an immediate moratorium state-wide on any further transmission line clearing including projects currently underway, with individual approvals to re-commence work only after proper public review. (Exceptions would be made for instances of urgent public safety.) Too much environmental damage and property value loss has occurred already!

  1. Restitution to homeowners and municipalities for improper and excessive removal of trees. (See last item below concerning updating the vegetative management guidelines for a list of issues, both property and eco-system related, to be addressed by replanting, remuneration or other agreed upon methods.)

  2. Review of original PSC 2005 SEQRA filings (and related PSC or utility filings) concerning transmission line clearing – invalidate and establish new public hearings with a science-based, fact-based EIS analysis. (Why? Original SEQRA actions had no public hearings, no public review. PSC used ‘short form’ SEQRA which is invalid for such extensive work state-wide. Also, short form indicated “no environmental impact” with absolutely no discussion of factors such as habitat loss, stormwater issues, noise abatement, privacy loss, property value loss and other ecological and aesthetic concerns.)

  3. Update / moderization of PSC and utility Vegetative Management guidelines for ROW. Based upon NERC recommendations for tiered-cutting dependent upon tree height & distance from centerline of transmission towers, while taking tree species into consideration. New guidelines must take into account: property value impact, aesthetic impact, view shed buffers, habitat protection, stormwater mitigation, noise abatement, management of invasives and deer (as the cut corridors. esp. clear cut, are “highways” for the spread of invasives, while at the same time provide optimum browse for white-tail deer.) Public review and feedback required.

  4. Proper advanced notification by utility including detailed written description of intended work. On-site consultation with both private and municipal property owners affected by project. Second opinions via Senior arborist. Documentation and sign-off of all agreed upon work.

  5. Use of better-trained, higher skilled and more closely supervised contractors for any line clearing or ROW maintenance. Contractors must also share greater liability (with Con Ed) for trespass, improper removals and so forth. Supervision on-site by senior arborist at all times. Clearly defined and publicized escalation and stop-work procedures. Enforcement of hours-of-work limitations based upon local regulations. Follow-up monitoring and evaluation of work – every day.

Top 5 Required Actions/Fixes for Distribution Line Clearing Projects

Core goal is to release a “model” ROW Code module (based upon Greenburgh 260A) for adoption by regional municipalities which outlines the rights of public & private landowners as well as the responsibilities of utilities such as Con Ed in regards to the distribution line right-of-way. Includes mandatory requirements for notification, consultation, stump removal and replanting or restitution by the utility.

1. Communication (public and private trees)
  • Advanced notification with description of intended work (pruning & removals).
  • Contact information to arrange on-site consultations.
  • Written description of agreed upon work – shared with owner and with work crew(s).
  • Second opinion by means of Con Ed Senior Arborist.
  • Daily street-by-street “target list” announcement (to municipality).
2. Restoration & Restitution (the three “R”s)
  • Removal (of stumps)
  • Re-plant
  • Remuneration (if unable to replant).
  • Appropriate canopy and eco-service restoration (e.g. do not replant with shrubs in lieu of removed hardwoods). Site factors to address include aesthetic damage due to excessive pruning, privacy impact, property value reduction, noise abatement, habitat loss, stormwater mitigation, viewshed.
3. Oversight
  • Certified arborist on-site at all times. (Municipal arborist paid for by Con Ed?)
  • Follow-up survey of work, tree-by-tree, block-by-block immediately after associated work zone completed.
  • Problem resolution process for homeowners or municipalities, including arbitration and restitution.
  • Escalation List developed with municipality and publicly announced / documented. Should function 7x24 (i.e.; weekends & evenings included).
  • Immediate ‘Stop Work’ procedures and resolution process.
4. Training
  • ISA-certified arborist for on-site consultations and supervising all work crews.
  • Contractor crew training (including: proper pruning, improper pruning, minimal wood removal, behavior to public, stop work procedure, etc.)
  • Work not based on quantity of removal, but quality.
  • Follow-up evaluation of work & immediate on-site retraining, as required.
5. Education
  • “Right tree in the right place.” (Don’t plant an Oak under the wires!)
  • Municipal and homeowner responsibility to prune trees near or within ROW on an annual basis (not waiting for Con Ed cycle…)
  • Public meetings before and after municipal line clearing work to determine overall impact and actual execution of project.

Friends in High Places or Simply Wrong Side of the Tracks?

From an email I received this weekend:

If the people of Rockland & Westchester really wanted to stop massive tree removals from our communities by Con Edison and its O&R division… apparently all we needed to do was get high-ranking jobs with the PSC and its operational arm, the Department of Public Service!

As you’ll learn from the email below and attached document that I sent to Kate Glazer of Senator Stewart-Cousin’s office, the PSC’s rules don’t seem to apply to the PSC Chairman, Garry Brown, nor the guy who actually wrote the rules, David Morrell, mandating tree removal throughout the State.

Please feel free to share this email with others, so that everyone will know about the hypocrisy of the PSC/DPS officials who visited Westchester on Saturday to excuse/justify the disastrous situation they just caused to your communities in the past few weeks.

Sincerely,

Marvin Baum


From: Marvin S. Baum
Sent: Saturday, January 09, 2010 10:50 PM
To: Kate Glazer (glazer@senate.state.ny.us)
Subject: Unbelievable News About the PSC's Garry A. Brown & David Morrell...

Dear Ms. Glazer:

My parents and I visited the Albany area on Thursday to once again examine the neighborhoods of PSC Chairman Garry A. Brown and David Morrell, author of PSC’s tree removal regulations, both of whom live just yards away from major transmission lines.

After discovering (via SuperPages.com, Googlemaps and GoogleEarth) in August 2008 that Mr. Morrell’s home on Boylston Drive in Delmar was screened from the transmission lines by tall-growing trees, we immediately took a ride up to Albany to photograph the evidence.

Later that year, we also discovered that Mr. Brown was “similarly situated,” although in his case, the transmission lines appeared to be even higher-powered. Because his home in on a peninsula surrounded by water, Mr. Brown has to pass these transmission lines each and every time he enters or leaves his driveway.

On December 2, 2008, my parents and I went to see Mr. Brown’s neighborhood firsthand and photograph the evidence. After our trip to Burden Lake (Averill Park, NY), we went back to Boylston Drive and took more pictures there, especially since nothing had changed.

What we didn’t know until last Wednesday is that the property that the Burden Lake transmission lines are on (or the immediately adjoining property) appears to be that of a “Helen M. Brown.” While Brown is not an uncommon name, it is quite likely that Helen Brown, just one home away from Garry Brown on West Shore Drive, and just a few more homes away from Barbara M. Brown,” who lives on Burden Lake Road, is related to Garry Brown and, possibly, to Barbara Brown, as well.

A few days after our December 2008 visit, I let the PSC (first Jim Austin, then David Morrell and Mike Corso, too) know that we knew about the hypocritical “situation” of David Morrell and Garry Brown. Mr. Austin arrogantly told me that it didn’t matter that Mr. Brown and Mr. Morrell both had tall-growing trees under and around their transmission lines… it was my parents’ trees that had to be removed.

On one hand, Mr. Brown and Mr. Morrell were insisting that trees in Rockland, Westchester and elsewhere were automatically dangerous anywhere in a transmission line right-of-way (regardless if the trees could ever pose an actual danger). On the other hand, they themselves were benefitting from tall trees near transmission lines. This hypocrisy didn’t matter to them or Mr. Austin.

Nevertheless, given how bad this hypocrisy looked, my parents and I fully expected Mr. Brown and Mr. Morrell’s trees would all have been fully removed to the ground by now, over one year later.

As indicated above, my parents and I re-visited the Brown and Morrell neighborhoods this past Thursday. To our great surprise, the tall-growing trees that screen Mr. Brown’s home (and that of his neighbors/relatives) have only been trimmed, including those directly under the transmission lines. Worse yet, the trees that screen Mr. Morrell’s home and that of his neighbors from the transmission lines crossing Boylston Drive have not even been touched, despite the fact that branches from tall-growing trees are directly underneath and adjoining the transmission lines.

I ask that you review the attached document and then bring it to the attention of the Senator to show her how citizens in her district are being treated “differently” the people in Delmar and Burden Lake – especially when they are the ones that make the regulations for the rest of us.

This whole issue goes back to my point to you last week about DPS staff members intentionally violating SEQRA with the use of the Short EAF and knowingly falsifying information in this document. It is clear that the Public Service Commission and DPS staff believe they are “above the law.” These people are “out-of-control” and only are doing what the utility companies want them to do.

I hope that Senator Stewart-Cousins, together with other State representatives, can begin forcing the PSC/DPS to comply with the law (Article 8 and SEQRA) and to change the underlying regulations (04-E-0822) that have caused so many problems for her constituents and others throughout the State.

As you look at the attached document with its updated photos from the Brown and Morrell neighborhoods, please keep in mind the photos that I previously sent you from your district, which I am now again providing below. I’m sure that you’ll agree… the differences are truly stark.

Sincerely,

Marvin Baum



Photos from Line Clearing in Yonkers, Scarsdale and Hartsdale along Catskill Aqueduct & Sprain Parkway.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Video of Saturday's Town Hall Meeting



I documented the Greenburgh meeting on Saturday using my new Flip Cam. It's a little shaky here and there but the audio isn't to bad at all. Click to play the video in a new window.

Note: the file is large so it takes a few moments to get started up... There is also automatic selection of an iPhone version for those of you accessing the site via mobile web.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Index of Important Blog Articles by Topic

I created this document to give out today at the Greenburgh town meeting with Paul Feiner, Senator Stewart-Cousins and PSC representatives. It lists selected blog postings by topic and provides a nice index into the on-going discussion and reporting.

Feel free to circulate and share the pdf.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Important Upcoming Public Events Saturday & Monday Concerning Con Ed - Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Just a quick note to let you know about two important dates regarding the Town of Greenburgh, Con Edison, and you. Please make every effort to attend. The greater the number of people there, the greater our voice.

Saturday, January 9 @ 2pm - Town Hall - Meeting with Senator Stewart-Cousins. The Senator is looking to change legislation so that what Con Edison was allowed to do can never happen again. She needs to know how horribly Con Edison's clear cutting has affected our lives and how unnecessary it was. After the meeting, she will be taking a tour of some of the affected areas and homes.

Monday, January 11 from 4:30pm to 5:30pm - Town Hall - Con Edison Public Hearing for proposed rate increase. If they are going to do raise our rates, then some of the money must be allocated to resititution for our town, our homes, and our local environment.

from our friends at the Keep Greenburgh Green blog.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Senator Cousins to Conduct Site Inspection of Con Ed Tree Cutting This Saturday - January 9th, 2010 at 2pm

As organized by Paul Feiner:

Senator Andrea Stewart Cousins will join Paul Feiner and other Town Board members on a site inspection of areas impacted by the recent Con Ed transmission line tree clearings. A short meeting will be held first at Greenburgh Town Hall at 2 PM followed by the site inspections. Greenburgh Town Hall is located at 177 Hillside Ave. [Google Map]

UPDATE: Senator Cousins reports that members of the PSC will be attending this meeting.

If your property was impacted by the tree clearing that recently took place (such as near Sprain Road, areas in Yonkers or in other parts of the county) OR if you are a concerned citizen or municipal official who wants to ensure that the proper attention is being applied to this serious environmental issue, you are invited to attend this meeting and site review. You need not be a resident of Greenburgh to attend!

Villages Seek Oversight of Con Ed's Future Tree Pruning - Hudson Independent January 2010



Read the follow-up article by Barrett Seaman on Page 2 of the Hudson Independent January 2010 issue. The article concludes with a thoughtful quote by Anne Jaffe of the Greenburgh Environmental Forum:

"Ultimately, added Jaffe-Holmes, the process must involve the utility itself. 'There's no divorce here,' she said. 'We need utilities. We need trees. To remain pitted as enemies is not an option.'"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Predatory Tree Harvesting

Imagine the following scenario:

You are at home one day and you hear a knock. The person at the door tells you that he was driving through your neighborhood and happened to notice that you have a very dangerous tree which is overhanging your house - and that it really should be taken down immediately for your family's and neighbor's safety. He then offers to remove this tree and grind the stump for a very cheap rate (as he is the owner of a small tree service) - but you have to decide right away since his crew is not too busy at the moment.

This might seem like a good deal. Why worry about a bad tree? Perhaps you should just say "yes" now and have everything taken care of...

In this situation, the tree service will come and cut the tree, then haul away the wood for re-sale to lumber mills (or where ever). They can make over a thousand dollars per tree (depending upon size, condition and species) for such re-sale! Even a tree in bad condition might net them an extra $500 re-sale.

Unfortunately for you, they don't bother to provide a supporting arborist's report with a thorough hazard analysis. (Your tree could actually be quite healthy after all! Second opinions are ALWAYS recommended for major trees.) Nor do they bother to get a town or village Tree Removal Permit. (As the home owner, you are the responsible party and thus may be fined for the illegal tree removal in addition to being responsible for restitution planting. This could get pretty expensive for you - all because the simple process of filing for a permit was ignored. Check with your village or town clerk's office to determine tree permit requirements.)


Least you think this to be an unlikely scenario, this actually transpired last month in my village. The tree company, from out of the area, was cruising around residential neighborhoods looking for high value trees to target. In this case, the tree removed was a 48" DBH Silver Maple in perfect health (as determined by the various trunk cross-sections showing absolutely no decay or infection.)

Concerned neighbors reported the tree cutting while it was occurring, inquiring whether or not a permit had been approved. Ultimately, both the home owner and the tree company have been issued violations. The court case is in process now.