In wake of Irene and October snowstorm, task force to set rules for tree maintenance

A special task force is being formed to set policies that municipalities, the state and utilities should follow for the maintenance of trees along power lines.

Members of the task force will include town and city tree wardens, state forestry officials and representatives of the state Department of Transportation, utilities, the tree care industry and conservation groups. Its creation was announced by state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty at the meeting of the Tree Wardens Association of Connecticut on Thursday.

"The two historic storms and power outages we faced this fall drive home the point that we need to think carefully about how we maintain the beauty of our trees while ensuring the reliability of electrical service," Esty said. "The task force was wisely recommended by Gov. (Dannel) Malloy's Two Storm Panel and we believe the time is right to move forward with it."

Tropical Storm Irene in August and the October snowstorm caused extended, widespread power outages throughout the state. Many of the outages were caused by tree limbs falling on power lines.

DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain said Friday that the task force will have its first meeting as soon as possible. The group will seek public input, he added. The policies the group sets could result in proposals for new regulations and laws regarding tree maintenance, he said.

Esty said the task force's charge will be to develop clear and consistent policies that "strike the right balance." The polices will be developed so that they are useful to private property owners as well as municipalities, the state and utilities, he said.

The state is also focused on issues beyond tree maintenance to reduce the risks of extended power outages in the future, Esty said.

"We need to strengthen the resilience of our power grid - with modern and up-to-date poles, wiring and connections - in order to better withstand future weather events," he said.

Esty also advocated the creation of local power sources to create "microgrids" that would be independent of the overall power supply.

"This will ensure that power stays on in town centers and at strategic locations such as hospitals and wastewater treatment plants, even when the grid goes down," he said.

He noted that Malloy has proposed funding for a microgrid initiative.

j.benson@theday.com

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