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Joshuatown Road tree tangled up in jurisdictional mess

Lyme — Jurisdictional issues left a massive, downed oak tree lying in limbo over wires on Joshuatown Road for more than a week.

According to various concerned parties, there are phone, cable and possibly live electrical wires in the affected area.

First Selectman Steve Mattson this Monday said the responsibility for removing the tree from the wires belongs to Frontier Communications. That's because the Norwalk-based internet, TV and telephone provider owns the two poles holding up the "tangled mess" of lines surrounding the downed tree, according to the first selectman.

He said he believes there are power lines involved but Eversource Energy "declined responsibility" for tree removal because the poles belong to Frontier.

"We are waiting for Frontier to get here," he said. "And we don't have lots of hope."

Frontier has been contacted "ad nauseum" about the downed tree by people including Mattson, town garage foreman Lars Anderson and numerous residents, according to the first selectman.

Resident Humphrey Tyler, who lives across the street, said the tree had been down since last Monday. Eight days later, he said no crews had come to disentangle the tree and repair the line and pole.

Meanwhile, the road remained closed on both sides of the tree. On Tuesday morning, cars could be seen driving through despite the single road closure signs posted on either end. Traffic cones surrounded the tree itself, reducing traffic to one lane in that section.

Town crews cleared as much of the area as they could, though Mattson said Eversource prohibits them from coming any closer than 20 feet to live wires.

He said the main risk from the downed tree comes from the energized lines.

"We have people driving around the barricades and they're putting themselves at risk. Any walkers that go through there could also be at risk, that's why it's marked as well as it is," Mattson said.

Tyler said there are Frontier and Comcast cable lines on the poles, though he did not know about any electrical lines. He said his main fear was that the tree would fall from where it had been suspended over the road for more than a week.

"This tree could come tumbling down at any point and, if it did, it could hit somebody who's walking on the road or cycling on the road or who is driving, because there is one lane open next to it," Tyler said.

He said he personally tried calling Frontier but could not get through because he is not a customer of the company. "You get into their phone tree and you have to give an account number in order to get any further, and we don't have an account number. So it was impossible."

Recently, Frontier internet service was down for three weeks in the area of Grassy Hill Road in Lyme despite repeated calls from some residents. It was restored the day an article about the outage ran in the newspaper, according to one affected customer.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross looked into the Joshuatown Road issue and told The Day that an Eversource crew was en route.

"We have confirmed it's on phone and cable lines; however, we have a crew nearby and we're going to send that crew to take care of that tree and open up the road," he said.

When asked if any of the wires were live, Gross said there were no power outages at the time in Lyme and that, if there were any electrical lines in that section, they were "not compromised."

He said Frontier would be responsible for taking care of the problem "in a typical scenario."

Frontier public relations representative Brigid M. Smith on Tuesday said a construction manager for the phone company was going to the scene that afternoon. She said she had not been able to find anyone at Frontier who had received any reports of the downed tree.

She said she did not doubt calls had been made, but added it's important to direct the calls to the right place.

"We have a lot of ways for them to reach out. There's a pretty established structure there," she said. "I'm sorry the first selectman is feeling he was ignored; he was not deliberately."

She said the company will take any action "that it is our obligation to take, once the wires — if they are live — have been deactivated."

According to Smith, the important thing is that both Eversource and Frontier would be evaluating the situation.

"It's going to be looked at and everyone will do what they're supposed to do," she said. "There will be a happy ending to this."

e.regan@theday.com

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