The other day, alert “06880” reader Scott Smith saw a CTMirror report on Westport’s favorite topic:
big houses bad drivers power outages.
The story noted that a panel studying the state’s readiness for future major storms recommended selective burying of electric wires, new utility performances standards (with penalties) — and “dramatically enhanced tree-trimming.”
As Scott says: “If you thought deer were sacred cows in Westport, just wait till the town or CL&P tries to take down someone’s favorite old tree in the name of public safety.”
Scott says a lot more, too. Here are his thoughts on trees, wind, snow, and What It All Means To Westport:
Walking my dog recently on the marsh side of Sherwood Island, I came across a stately old white birch that is the biggest I’ve seen. Great shape, full canopy, marbled white trunk as thick as an old oak. Set just off by itself from a grove of other birches, it was encircled by brush, through which rose a tangle of vines that threatened to strangle it.
On my next walk, I tucked a pair of long-handled pruning shears under my coat and brought them with me to the glade. While the dog stood by with a tennis ball in his mouth and a puzzled look on his face, I worked my way around the old tree to nick the strands of wild grape and oriental bittersweet (the nasty invasive vine with bright orange roots) that vied to take it down.
I don’t know if that makes me a vandal of state property, but it sure brands me as a tree hugger.
I’m no arborist, but I have my favorites: trophy trees around town that I marvel at through the seasons. I could easily point out a dozen, even in my own neighborhood, that I consider landmarks, if not old friends, that always catch my eye.
Westport and its surrounds are studded with trees that individually, and all together, are truly one of the great things about living in these parts. It would be cool to see a townwide census of the best specimen trees of all types, to honor them, protect them, appreciate them while they last.
But no doubt about it: We have, ahem, a growing problem with trees.
As CTMirror stated, a key step in better preparedness, a statewide panel recommended, involves recognizing that past vegetation management efforts were insufficient. Fallen trees and limbs were responsible for the bulk of the outages in 2 recent storms, including 90 percent of those during Irene.
CL&P proposed last month that it increase its tree-trimming budget by 10 percent compared with its annual average over the prior decade.
According to CTMirror, the state panel did not recommend a specific increase, but called for a statewide tree risk assessment study. This would be followed by a 5-year collaborative effort among utilities, towns and the state to implement an enhanced tree-trimming program.
CTMirror says the panel also recommended that Connecticut establish a statewide Hazardous Tree Removal Fund. It would provide matching grants to residents, who would help pay to remove trees on private property that pose a risk to electric wires.
I wonder how the Town of Westport will respond to this report. I know we have a tree warden, but I’m pretty sure that’s a puny, patronage-type position. (The warden came by my house a few years ago because I was worried a rotted old maple on town-owned property alongside my driveway might fall on my car; he said he couldn’t do anything unless a tree was an “imminent danger.” The tree fell in the next nor’easter, missing my car but landing on my house.)
What Westport needs is not a tree warden but a tree czar. My neighbors on the private street down the way from my house squabble endlessly about who pays for tree maintenance – homeowners or the street association? With every passing storm another towering oak falls across their road and the power lines, taking out our entire neighborhood for a week.
In a way, I don’t blame them – who knows when a time-bomb of a tree will drop? Homeowners’ insurance is sketchy at best, and I know a lot of my neighbors – the retirees, especially – don’t have the $2,000 or $5,000 lying around needed to cut down a big old tree proactively.
I like the idea of a state tree removal fund, but we need someone local with authority, someone who can see the proverbial tree from the forest and act before it’s too late. I imagine the lines of jurisdiction and responsibility and red tape – not to mention hard-core NIMBYism — will be a lot harder to cut through than the vines that swarmed around my pet birch at Sherwood.
Too bad there’s not much need for wooden masts or stout roof beams, or capacity to make homegrown furniture these days. I bet as a resource, the new old-growth forests lording over our houses, streets and power lines are every bit as valuable as the virgin stands harvested by the first settlers 3 centuries ago.
Our tree trouble isn’t going away anytime soon; it will surely get a lot worse, as our forest canopy ages and the nor’easters and hurricanes strengthen. This is the calm before the next storm.
More than any other natural disaster, trees are our earthquakes, our forest fires, our floods. I don’t want to depend on the state, the feds or, god forbid, CL&P.
So what’s our plan?