Trees are not the villains in the latest round of power outages besieging the area — blame Mother Nature for that. They do, however, need to be managed better.
But it’s not just the town — nor just the state, the federal government, nor CL&P — that needs to do the managing. There needs to be an appropriate balance among those responsible for trees in the town.
The town only deals with trees on its property; CL&P takes care of tree trimming and cutting with regard to its utility lines and residents are responsible for the trees on their properties.
No one wants another layer of bureaucracy when it comes to trees, but a program needs to be developed — and one was talked about in the state legislature last year — to encourage property owners to pay more attention to trees on their property, especially those near their homes and adjacent to town or state roadways. The town can verbalize an over-arching philosophy on tree management, but it’s individual residents who will make the most difference by doing something about it.
If CL&P wants to cut down or trim a tree on private property and the homeowner resists, who should be responsible for the damage caused if the tree or its limbs fall on electric wires? Or on a car? Or a passing pedestrian or bicycle rider?
Homeowners, like the town and CL&P, have a responsibility to have a licensed arborist inspect suspect trees, and to take care of them, even if it means paying to cut them down or trim them.
The town highway department and CL&P have tree management plans, but more is needed. Some municipalities actually have a plan in place that would help the town and its property owners decide what kinds of trees are better suited near a roadside, or under a power line or near a home. So when a tree dies or is damaged by disease or wind, there is a resource in place to help decide what should be planted in its place.
To cut down trees willy nilly because they are under a power line or near a road seems to go too far. Trees are beautiful and have many advantages. Keeping these trees healthy and replacing them with more appropriate trees when needed just makes more sense.
Putting all power lines underground, as some have proposed, may be a partial solution years down the road, but it is unrealistic to think this would happen in the near future. There is merit to looking to more undergrounding as new lines are needed or as lines are being replaced — but even underground cables do not ensure no power outages.
There is only so much that can be done to catch trees before they or their limbs fall. High winds and storms are not going away, but better preparations can be made, not only from the standpoint of managing trees but also from the standpoint of people being better prepared when there are outages.