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Hoose: Lexington needs choice for electricity

Wicked Local Lexington
Aug 23, 2012

Hannah McGoldrick, reporting in the Aug. 16 Lexington Minuteman, presents a picture of the unhappiness citizens feel about NSTAR’s cutting trees as somehow balanced by the company’s commitment to ensuring “reliability and access to electricity.” Her article neglects to mention that NSTAR has spent enormous amounts of money to ensure, not community interests, but the company’s profit margin.

NSTAR’s lobbying has been, and continues to be, committed to blocking the creation of any municipal electric utility company (muni) by any but the few communities in which they are already established. The absurdity of one private company’s holding a community hostage to its greed by blocking citizens’ wishes to explore reliable, reasonably affordable and aesthetically respectable solutions to electrical service too often escapes mention, as Ms. McGoldrick’s article demonstrates.

Absent Lexington’s enjoying the freedom to choose its own service (as Concord does), and absent NSTAR’s willingness to have a real discussion about moving the power lines underground (as Concord’s muni has begun doing), we are left with having our trees cut, often with savage disregard for the role they play in contributing to our town’s unique beauty. A drive down Massachusetts Avenue reveals just how little regard NSTAR has for this aesthetic and historical resource.

Incidentally, hiring an arborist to trim privately owned trees has not inhibited NSTAR’s draconian determination to meet “safety” requirements. I have had my street-side trees trimmed regularly by professional arborists who are invested both in aesthetics and in safety. Nonetheless, NSTAR recently began to cut these trees, until I asked them to stop. They did. However, it is time for Lexington citizens, together, to ask NSTAR to stop something even larger — its monopolistic grip over our freedom of choice. Concord can choose. Why not Lexington? — David Hoose, Audubon Road

NSTAR defends tree pruning in Lexington

By Hannah McGoldrick/
Lexington Minuteman
Aug 15, 2012

Lexington — As a result of last year’s devastating storms in August and October, which caused widespread power outages statewide, NSTAR increased its tree pruning clearance recommendation to avoid a similar situation this year.

Several Lexington residents, however, are not pleased with the utility’s tree pruning practices. Ann Eckels, a resident and landscape architect, was upset when she found out NSTAR wanted to remove a tree from her front yard. She said several of her neighbors also expressed annoyance at the policy.

“I am sympathetic because they don’t come every year; they can’t,” Eckels said. “So they take it way back.”

After consulting with the town’s tree warden, Christopher Filadoro, Eckels agreed to hire a private arborist to maintain the tree every year at her own expense.

“Then you can take it back and do it in a much more controlled way,” she said.

Eckels said maintaining the tree independently will be expensive, but it’s a cost she’s willing to bear to keep the tree in her yard.

“I’m not going to do without street trees,” she said. “It would be a real loss and we were willing to take care of it.”

Eckels understands NSTAR needs to maintain the trees along the right of way of power lines to avoid damage to the lines and possible outages during storms, but she is concerned about its practices.

“I think you do have to take care of trees but the problem with the utilities doing it is they are only going to come every four to five years,” she said.

Eckels urges other residents to consider hiring a private arborist to maintain the trees on a yearly basis. She said street trees are important assets to the town.

“I think certainly that [people] understand the value to their home and landscape — landscape is an enormous asset to your home and to our town,” she said.

Mike Durand, a spokesman for NSTAR, said the electrical company takes tree pruning very seriously.

“Trees are the number one cause of power outages and we have a commitment and an obligation to provide reliable electric service,” Durand said. “So tree pruning is an important part of our ongoing maintenance and reliability program.”

Durand said NSTAR increased its clearance recommendation — from 8 feet below, 8 feet on the sides, and 12 feet above — to 10 feet by 10 feet by 15 feet, as a direct result of last year’s storms.

“We only have to look back as far as last fall as a stark reminder of the damage trees can cause,” Durand said.

NSTAR began this year’s tree pruning in Lexington in early May and has already completed 22 miles of pruning. During that time, Durand said the company has only received one complaint from a resident.

“As you can see the track record of the work we’ve been doing in town is very good,” he said.

Durand said NStar works closely with the tree wardens in each town as well as notifies the neighbors by mail of the program.

“We give notification letters to everyone on the electric circuit on both sides of the road,” he said. “If we are recommending removals of any trees we will either seek approval of the town if it’s a town owned tree or of the property owner if it s a privately owned tree.”

Durand said the primary goal of the NStar tree pruning program is to ensure reliability and access to electricity.

“We prune trees on the local town streets in a way that trains them to grow around power lines with recommendations for tree removal only if they are a hazard tree or if pruning is denied,” he said. “[Trees] can coexist but we cannot allow them to interfere with the lines without sacrificing reliability.”