Madison residents push back on Eversource tree removal plans
MADISON — Eversource is pursuing "enhanced tree removal" projects in 20 Connecticut towns as part of a data-driven resiliency plan the utility company says is aimed at reducing outages.
In recent years, the utility has come under fire in connection to storm-related power outages that left some customers waiting days for the lights to come back on. Eversource says it hopes the latest tree removal projects will help it better meet regulators' expectations.
But not everyone is happy about the proposal.
When Barbara Yaeger, a resident of River Road in Madison, noticed trees were tagged for removal on her street, she initially thought they would only be pruned, she said. She later realized Eversource planned to remove them completely. She counted the tagged trees and said she identified several hundred.
Yaeger's concerns are both environmental and aesthetic.
"It's a beautifully-treed, historic New England Street," Yaeger said. "And that's why I moved here."
Yaeger was part of a group of Madison residents that came out to a Nov. 29 public hearing to express misgivings about the project.
In response to those concerns, Eversource officials have emphasized that the device the company operates in the Madison neighborhood is one of the most impacted in the state when it comes to tree-related outages.
Sean Redding, Eversource's manager of vegetation management, said the company reviewed three years of outage data to make that determination.
Instead of looking at larger electrical circuits that provide power to multiple towns to formulate its resiliency plan, he said, the utility looked at devices that break up the circuit into smaller sections.
They then identified the 50 devices that suffered most from tree-related outages, Redding said, and are pursuing tree removal projects in about 20 Connecticut towns based on the findings.
Those towns include Bethel, Bristol, Cheshire, Chester, Clinton, Danbury, Durham, Ellington, Guilford, Mansfield, Middletown, Naugatuck, Newtown, Redding, Sharon, West Hartford, Windham and Woodstock, according to a list provided by Eversource.
The company has begun outreach for the projects in all but one town, Redding said, adding that work has already taken place in many of them.
Eversource began exploring a data-driven approach last year following tropical storms Elsa and Ida, according to Redding.
"We wanted to look at it a different way because of the expectations of our customers and the towns and our regulators," Redding said.
Asked how many trees the utility was seeking to remove under the resiliency plan, Redding said he did not immediately have a figure. But in Madison and a small portion of Clinton, Eversource has made agreements with property owners to remove several hundred trees, he said.
In some cases, the company is offering to put a planting on properties in place of removed trees, Redding said, adding that Eversource also will provide stump grinding services to some homeowners.
The trees slated for removal sit along a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of road. According to a statement from an Eversource spokesperson, the device there services about 3,200 customers and there have been three significant outage events in the last three years for the segment.
On average, customers along the segment experienced about three days' worth of outages overall, the spokesperson said.
During the public meeting on the tree removal, two residents raised doubts about the significance of numbers Eversource provided. They said they lived in the neighborhood but had never had much problem with power.
Eversource officials told the residents that the device impacted residents outside of the immediate neighborhood.
Neighbor Gerry Aubrey said he understood that Eversource was trying to limit the risk of outages, but asked the utility to balance that concern with efforts to maintain the environment.
"I would ask as a ratepayer and a resident of the neighborhood that there be some consideration," he said. "Treat our street like you'd treat your street."
"There's got to be a balance between preserving the environment and preserving the resiliency of the grid," Aubrey said.
Meanwhile, members of the Board of Selectmen stressed that the town only has a say in what happens to trees in the town right-of-way.
"This tree removal plan is really much broader than those identified on just town property," said First Selectwoman Peggy Lyons. "The decision for tree removal on private property is a private matter between Eversource and the property owner."
Eversource initially proposed cutting down about 80 town trees, Lyons said, but after the tree warden evaluated them, the number was winnowed down to roughly 22.
The tree warden deemed nine of those trees a safety hazard, Redding said, meaning no public hearing was required prior to removal.
As for the remaining town trees, Lyons told the New Haven Register in a statement that the Board of Selectmen does not vote on tree removal; instead, a final decision regarding the town trees is rendered by the tree warden.
Madison is requesting that Eversource plant three trees for each one it removes, according to Lyons. One would go in area where the removal took place, while the other two would be given to the town, which would coordinate its planting with the Mad for Trees initiative, she said.
Mad for Trees is a local group that aims to make Madison more sustainable by replacing trees that were lost over the past decade to pests, droughts and storms, according to its website.
As of Wednesday, Redding said Eversource had not received an official request about the three-for-one program from the town but said it came up during the public hearing.
He expects the removals to begin early this month, he said.