Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LORAX Press Release Concerning PSC Case 10-E-0155 - Policy Review of Vegetation Management



Contact:           Mark Gilliland                                    
                        GEF LORAX Working Group
                        c/o Greenburgh Nature Center                                   
                        99 Dromore Rd
Scarsdale, NY 10583                                                
                        (914) 714-3056                                                                     

May 25, 2010


Policy review opened to interested parties including the general public!

GREENBURGH, NEW YORK – The GEF LORAX Working Group in conjunction with the Sierra Club Lower Hudson Group applaud the New York Public Service Commission’s (PSC) timely decision to re-examine its 2005 policy and guidelines for vegetation management along state high voltage transmission lines. This review, called Case 10-E-0155, has been requested in resolutions drafted by LORAX and passed by Yonkers, Yorktown, Greenburgh, Pleasantville and by the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL), as well as through numerous complaints from affected homeowners and property owners along the transmission lines in Westchester County and elsewhere in the state.

The current Vegetation Management policies of the PSC and the programs defined by the various Transmission Operators (TO) in the state has lead to severe economic, esthetic and environmental damage along the transmission rights-of-way (ROWs) due to excessive removal and clear-cutting of all trees and vegetation as well as insufficient or inadequate follow-up mitigation. This has been clearly documented by LORAX, the Sierra Club and the various municipalities and the BOL along the entire span of the Catskill Aqueduct in Westchester County where Con Edison has implemented a “scorched earth” approach within its easements.

“I am very pleased that LORAX and the Sierra Club have been pressing the PSC to review Con Ed's tree cutting policies. The town and many of our residents recognize that diseased trees and trees that are in danger of falling on Con Ed wires need to be cut. However, during the past year Con Ed has contracted out with a private company to cut trees that were not close to wires or transmission lines and did not pose any danger to the ability of Con Ed to maintain service. It's the hope of the town that the PSC will require Con Ed to provide additional notice to localities before trees are cut. Local governments and residents should be provided with input. If significant tree clearing takes place there should be a replanting requirement. Greenburgh wants to keep the green in our name.”
- Paul Feiner, Supervisor, Town of Greenburgh

“The LORAX working group’s mission is to define regulatory, legislative and procedural solutions for vegetation management practices along both distribution lines and high voltage transmission lines. We are encouraged that Case 10-E-0155 will allow for both expert and public dialog in open forums to include local utility companies, affected citizens and the Public Service Commission. We believe win-win solutions for vegetation management can be defined that serve both reliability and environmental goals.”
- Mark Gilliland, LORAX working group

“Consolidated Edison’s execution of their Transmission Rights-of-Way Land & Vegetation Management Plan has galvanized the residents of Westchester County to reach beyond our own property lines and town borders to unite against further clear cutting of our beautiful neighborhoods. Our goal is to unite and empower all the effected residents and force our elected officials to initiate change.”
- Amy Kupferberg, Greenburgh resident

The power utility failure in Ohio of 2003 resulting in a Northeast blackout, was more the result of a malfunctioning, ancient electrical facility than two fallen trees on a wire, which is the Public Service Commission explanation. This decimation of tens of thousands of forest acreage with short and long term environmental and financial impacts has not, according to the PSC itself, been shown to be a proactive remedy to power outages.
- Gerri Currall, Sierra Club Lower Hudson Group

LOAX and Sierra Club believe that the Case 10-E-0155 review and policy adjustment must be based upon current issues of regional and state concern such as global warming, carbon sequestration, stormwater and erosion management, and must include science-based input as to the full range of expected and experienced environmental impacts. Concern for "trickle down" costs (due to follow-on site mitigation and/or property value losses) currently borne solely by private property owners and local municipalities must also be considered – thus the urgent need for requiring site mitigation as a “best practice” within any modern vegetation management policy.

The GEF LORAX working group and Lower Hudson Sierra Club are eager to work with the PSC and with Con Ed to find solutions to the line clearing issues that will ensure system reliability while achieving the economic, environmental and global warming goals supported by Westchester’s communities.

We are recommending the following 5-point plan as a basis of action:

1) Restitution or mitigation for homeowners and municipalities already adversely affected by the transmission line clearings.

2) Public review and update of the PSC’s original 2004 State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) findings. Although the PSC staff estimated that over 1900 acres of land would be impacted statewide by the VM policy, they utilized a  short-form SEQR filing (which is only valid for 10 acres or less) and “checked off” the box which stated that there would be “no environmental impact.” The PSC needs to undertake a full SEQR environmental impact analysis (EIA) complete with alternatives and proposed mitigations.

3) Modernization of vegetation management (VM) guidelines for the transmission line rights-of-way to encompass the new draft Federal standard FAC-003-2 and its technical supplement, as well as current industry and academic views on “best practices.”  (For example, the “modified wire-zone / border-zone”  VM approach allows taller-growing vegetation such as understory trees to remain in the ROW based upon distance from the transmission line centerline. By limiting removal of trees and shrubs in the border zone,  this "tiered management" practice protects both local aesthetics and habitat.)

4) Advance notification by transmission utilities for all targeted property owners (private and municipal). Notification should include on-site consultations, detailed written descriptions of proposed pruning and removals, and a defined arbitration process for handling disagreements and specifying mitigation.

5) Improved training, supervision, quality assurance and oversight of line clearing contractors by the TO and of the Transmission utility staff by the PSC.

The PSC’s Case 10-E-0155 comment period is open until June 16th, 2010. Concerned citizens should consider taking one or more of the following actions:
·      Contact your local town or village politicians, including your BOL representative and State Assemblyman and Senator, to express your concerns and to report any issues you may have experienced personally.
·      Submit comments or complaints to the PSC (via phone, website, mail or email):
Email:                         secretary@dps.state.ny.us (Subject: Case 10-E-0155)
Toll-free line:             800-335-2120 (reference Case 10-E-0155)
Mailing address:       Public Service Commission
Jaclyn A. Brilling, Secretary
Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223
·      Provide testimony and remarks at upcoming PSC public hearings.
·      Encourage others to take action by sharing this news release and/or writing to local papers.

For more information and background documentation, visit http://loraxwg.blogspot.com.

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It is important to spread the word on this PSC Case. Download a pdf of this press release as distribute to your own lists.

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