Thursday, November 4, 2010

What To Do When You Get Noticed By Con Ed

This post covers what to do if your tree is nearby or under a distribution line along the street and you have received notice that Con Ed will be pruning in your neighborhood - or specifically on your front street.

If the tree is on your property, then UNLESS Con Ed has an easement agreement with you, they can not cut or prune the tree. They have to get you sign a release document or else they would be trespassing and illegally "taking" your tree.

Con Ed is not supposed to prune beyond their specified 10'(side) x 15'(above) x 10'(side) line clearance window. They are supposed to prune / manage only distribution lines, not "last mile" connections between the pole and your house or building. (These are your responsibility.)

Before you agree to having a (private) tree pruned by signing off on the utility's worksheet, demand an on-site consultation with the Con Ed supervisor and the tree contractor's forester so as to be shown specifically the extent of the cutting / pruning. They should be able to show you with a laser pointer every branch to be removed or pruned and be able to tell you "why". (It would be a good idea if you are discussing "high-valued" trees to supply your own consulting arborist at this review meeting who will be able to negotiate better pruning decisions and alert you to major concerns.)

If the tree is on a town/village easement (along the street), then the town/village must agree to Con Ed's actions ahead of time. This would typically be the DPW department, but may be the town/village forester, Tree Commission, or sometimes even the town/village clerk. Depends on municipality.

If tree is on town easement (thus, they own the tree) and the town agrees that the tree can be topped (bad for tree!), you are out of luck. Conversely, they may request the tree be removed and mitigated for (replant in new location or replacement with something which will not grow into the wires over time.)

Finally, in some cases, the town/village can request that Con Ed keep the tree unpruned (for aesthetic, public or historic reasons - such as along a park side), and ask that the utility's Line Engineering department consider "appliances" such as yard arms to move the wires out of the tree's crown or into a safer position vis-a-vis the tree's branches/trunk. (This "card" can be played very infrequently by the municipality, so save it for where it makes a major difference for the local community!)

In terms of topping, this is strictly in violation of ANSI A300 part 1 standards of industry "best practice" tree pruning. Con Ed is well aware of this specification and all of their contractors are supposed to conform to it. Short of topping, the only other "solution" would be to heavily prune the tree on one side. In many cases (esp. of it's an evergreen), it would be better to simply remove the tree in exchange for an acceptable replant somewhere else on your property. This would have to be negotiated with Con Ed ahead of time, of course.

As the Con Ed line supervisor or tree contractor's forester may not be able to commit to a negotiated agreement, I suggest that you contact the division head of Con Ed for distribution lines - Matt Glasser. If you must, go higher up the executive chain to top management (whose contact info can be discovered via web search.)

Please take time now to photo document your tree BEFORE Con Ed comes around, as well as after their visit.

Organize with your neighbors and form a community watch group during pruning operations in you neighborhood or along your street. Get local media involved. Make sure your local municipal officials know about this issue, as well. Make noise and be visible!

Record (take notes) concerning all conversations with utility staff, crews or higher-up corporate managers, as well as with your local municipal officials. Get any agreements with the utility concerning pruning or mitigation replanting in writing.

And MOST IMPORTANT, when the day of vegetation management comes, BE THERE ONSITE WATCHING and/or have an arborist there representing you. Keep an eye out at all times! A lot of damage can be done with a chain saw in just a few minutes...

Be sure to have an "escalation" number (7x24 cell#) to contact the in-the-field supervising Con Ed person so as to "stop work" and force an on-the-site meeting if the workers are not following agreed upon plans.

Good Luck!

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