PURA asks for 'enhanced' tree-trimming to be suspended

The state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority on Tuesday requested that tree-trimming efforts by the Connecticut Light & Power Co. and the United Illuminating Co. temporarily be scaled back following public opposition and concerns raised regarding the plans.

Based on its review of information and testimony recently submitted by UI and CL&P, as well as elected officials and ratepayers, PURA said in a news release Tuesday that it has directed that CL&P and UI voluntarily curtail “enhanced” tree-trimming programs, including removal of entire trees, pending a final ruling in its proceeding.

PURA initiated its investigation as part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s multi-pronged storm disaster preparedness and recovery initiatives. In this proceeding, PURA sought to expand its evidentiary record to assess and address Connecticut utility companies’ tree-trimming plans to prevent excessive weather-related infrastructure damage.

In recent weeks, many property owners, tree wardens, environmental advocates, elected officials, members of the Governor’s Vegetation Management Task Force and others have written to PURA or offered testimony opposing the tree-trimming activities underway and scheduled in parts of the state. Technical meetings and public comment sessions last week drew strong public input, including a hearing last week in Hamden.

In its ruling Tuesday, PURA directs CL&P and UI to respond in writing to the suspension request within three business days. The ruling does not seek a suspension of routine vegetation management activities.

“We need a time out to balance competing needs,” PURA Chairman Arthur House said. “One — as established by law — is Connecticut’s demonstrated need for more aggressive tree trimming to secure the reliability of vital utility services. The second need, especially articulated by communities in the New Haven and Hamden areas, is to avoid unnecessary eradication of trees and instead proceed with selective trimming.”

Vice Chairman John Betkoski III, the lead commissioner on the case, said changes made to state law in 2013 provide that a utility may perform vegetation management within the utility protection zone to secure reliability, and the utilities have proceeded to fulfill their responsibilities under this law.

“In this proceeding,” he said, “PURA is addressing the parameters of the word ‘may’ to ensure appropriate balance between service reliability and retention of healthy trees wherever possible. Until we complete our assessment, the PURA calls upon the utilities to suspend complete eradication of trees not sanctioned by local tree wardens and to continue with ongoing programs of therapeutic trimming.”

PURA also announced a technical meeting with stakeholders at PURA’s New Britain offices at 9:30 a.m. on March 27. The purpose of the meeting is to further review the CL&P/UI Vegetation Management Plans, including coordination of future projects with local officials, and how the process may be improved.

Customers may speak on the record at any of the PURA hearings in this matter, or may file written comments with the PURA by writing to: Executive Secretary, Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, 10 Franklin Square, New Britain, CT 06051. Comments may also be submitted via email to PURA at ExecutiveSecretary@ct.gov. Filers should reference PURA Docket No. 12-01-10, PURA Investigation into the Tree Trimming Practices of Connecticut’s Utility Companies, in any written correspondence.

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