Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Con Ed's Cutting Style Angers Residents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


-mg- said...

Senator Stewart-Cousins involvement and concern is key to reigning in the PSC and getting their 2005 line clearing guidelines reviewed and updated to more closely track those issued by NERC (including a "tiered" vegetative management approach).

The problem is that merely notifying communities that they are going to have their woodland/wetlands landscape around the transmission line corridor raped and denuded is not enough! Rather, the full public SEQRA process should be required for each line segment in each municipality to ensure that tree removal is mitigated by replanting and other restitution measures.

Loss of habitat, negative impact on stormwater, wetlands, noise abatement, homeowner privacy, carbon sequestration and pollution abatement, all add up to terrible short and long term environmental problems that the communities are left to sort out on their own dime (often at both private and public expense...)

Such "trickle-down" of impacts should not be allowed! Utilities can not simply clear cut trees and walk away. Rather full project responsibility (from proper supervision of line clearing contractors to quick implementation of the required/agreed upon mitigation measures) needs to fall upon the utility companies' shoulders, in conjunction with PSC oversight.

Beyond this, there is a serious question of "quality of service" statistics: has the "enhanced line clearing" actually resulted in fewer (and or shorter) outages along NYS transmission lines compared to times previous? If not provably better in this manner, then this argument cannot continue to be used by either the utilities of the PSC as a shield against taking full & appropriate environmental responsibility and stewardship for the long term public good.

See this article on Top 5 Actions to solve the Transmission Line Issues.

Anonymous said...

A related article in the same issue of Journal News...

Con Ed seeks new dig in Yonkers to serve water plant.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

The second article (mentioned in previous comment) relates to Con Ed's request to put a high voltage transmission line underground in Yonkers for a $1.2 billion NYC filtration plant. As you'll read, Con Edison is always willing to put transmission lines underground when it suits them for a big project, even for just a single customer.

When requests are made to put the lines underground forthe benefit of the public (for health/EMF reasons, property values, aesthetics, drainage, etc.), it's always "too expensive."

The second interesting point is that Yonkers elected officials are playing "hardball" against Con Ed on this issue for the horrible tree removal in their city by Con Ed on NYC lands. But what's Con Ed's answer to the concerns: "the trees will grow back."

This is a ridiculous answer. Herbicides are being put out to prevent re-growth, along with a thick layer of wood chips. Even if trees grow back, they'll be removed in about 3-4 years, before they have any chance to reach maturity.

Normally, it's Con Ed that plays hardball against municipalities, so it'snice to see the tables turned for a change.

Anonymous said...

Quoting from the second article;

"John Banks, Con Edison's vice president of government relations, said nature would take its course along the transmission lines and new trees would grow on their own."

This statement is bizarre.

(1) Succession is broken in much of Westchester; unmanaged, disturbed forest will become overrun with invasive plants, an aesthetic and ecological disaster. "Do nothing" is not a mitigation.

(2) The goal of Con Ed's policies is to remove tall-growing trees permanently. Allowing "new trees" to grow where they have just clear-cut would be either be a violation of company policy or an admission that the clear-cutting was unnecessary.

"Despite Banks' urging that the City Council vote, the committee took no action. Councilwoman Patricia McDow, D-1st District, the Real Estate Committee's chairwoman, said she held up a vote to encourage Con Edison to take remedial action.

"Trees come in all sizes. Maybe they can come back to the community and do some kind of landscaping," McDow said. "We can't leave that strip the way it is. That's absurd."

Good for Yonkers!