Balance Between Trimming and Butchering Trees

While neighboring Arlington, Watertown stop utility tree trimming, Belmont believes it found right mix.

By Franklin Tucker |
July 25, 2010

Arlington residents are up in arms. Homeowners in Watertown said no more.

"Stop killing our trees!" the citizen cry.

In the past month, citizens and elected officials from both towns have united by putting their feet down on the chainsaws used by contractors from NStar, the statewide utility company, to trim the tree branches from around the electrical wires.

In both cases, town officials said the work had "butchered" a forest trees in their communities with aggressive pruning. And in each town, a moratorium have been placed on the utility from cutting any tree until ground rules are established on future work.

As neighboring communities have revolted against what they view is an overtly aggressive pruning, Belmont's long serving Tree Warden Thomas D. Walsh said the town have had long standing regulations involving trimming trees that attempts to balance the needs of the local electrical utility, the Belmont Municipal Light Department.

"I can tell you that its been very rare times when I get a complaint about the work we do pruning trees," said Walsh, who has been warden since 1991.

Walsh said that there is a fine balance that needs to be addressed between creating a safe distance from the tree and the electric wires and not cutting so much that the branches or even the tree is weakened.

All pruning of town trees, located on the strip of land between the sidewalk and street, is all done under the aspects of the tree warden.

The town will not trim the trees on private property without permission.

Walsh said the Belmont Municipal Light Department works closely with him and the company contracted with the town, Asplundh Tree Expert Company.

Asplundh Tree is headquartered in Willow Grove, PA. Belmont contracts the firm out of its Plymouth offices.

And unlike NStar that hires different tree and landscaping firms for jobs, the BMLD has been working with the same two-person Asplundh crew for the past 12 years that brings a familiarity to the methods Walsh requires when trimming branches.

"They know what I'm looking for in minimum standards for the distance so the wires are not rubbing against trees which will produce arching," said Walsh, describing when electricity jumps from a wire to the tree, causing sparking and at times slow building fires.

"But they are not going to aggressively make cuts that endangers the trees because they are an important part of our town," said Walsh, who proudly notes that Belmont has been named an All-American Tree Town for more than two decades.

While Walsh said it would be impractical to notify each household before the tree is trimmed ("We do the work when its absolutely needed and so it needs to be done quickly," he said) "we are able to strike a good balance because of the crew we have and the regulations they know they have to follow under my direction."