Scott Smith Thinks That He Shall Never See…

 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:

The birch tree that caught Scott Smith's attention.

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.

A Westport scene less than 3 months ago -- right before Halloween.

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.)

An unfortunately familiar scene in the windstorm of 2010.

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?

They're called "killer trees" for a reason. This scene is from the windstorm of March, 2010.

21 responses to “Scott Smith Thinks That He Shall Never See…

  1. Was the unnamed march storm in 2010 or 2011? I don’t think we need one Czar, we need neighborhood Czars. Just like a neighborhood watch, we need tree czars or czarinas in each neighborhood. I just bet there is more damage caused by trees than by vandals. In a tornado (or a wicked wind shear) in 1993 or 1994, fourteen trees in my back yard came crashing down. My neighbor had a tree go right through her house like a spear. With wild CT weather, we should only have magnificent healthy trees in our midst.

  2. As I posted on WN, this should be a budget transfer not an increase. They’ve spent millions on restoring power after storms, spending on trimming trees and burying lines should be budget neutral for the state and CL&P.
    As for the trees themselves, burying the lines would be best, but it’s expensive, especially for trunk lines where it would have the best effect. Unfortunately, radical surgery will be needed in several places. Or we can wait until the storms bring them down for us…

  3. If anyone cares to look at histories of tree destruction one only needs to consider the Hurricane of 1938. During that storm it is estimated that two- thirds of New England’s trees (about two billion) were blown-down. Survivors of that storm are very old. Just search the internet for “hurricane of 1938” for details and pictures. That storm hit Rhode Island dead on, tracking right up Narraganset Bay to Providence and beyond.

    I witnessed the back side of this storm in New Jersey while delivering newspapers on my bicycle. As the wind increased I found it necessary to abort my mission. I returned home in time to wilness the downing of my favorite tree, a large Sassafras in our backyard

  4. CL&P cut back on tree trucks and the employees who repair lines after storms.
    The solution is adequate staff to get power back quickly, not chainsaw or “prune” every tree near a power line. The tree trimmers are butchers. Keep them away from Westport!
    BTW, Westport is VERY LAX when it comes to penalizing developers who cut town trees. Which is why they cut first, then plead ignorance, because the tiny fine is a tiny amount to their overall project. Did I mention how political the decision making process is?
    Do not turn those savages loose on our trees. They do nit have our best interests in mind. They think of trees as electrical weeds.

    • CL&P is a regulated utility. The cut backs you deplore are a natural result of regulations. Electric rates are set by regulators, returns on investment etc. are set by regulators. It is politically more palatable to cut back on services than it is to raise rates. The trees that are a hazard should come down; the hysterical rants to the contrary not withstanding.

      • Well Said.

      • Yes, the regulators have regulated CL&P’s management bonuses. I question why we allow public utilities who do not innovate, compete or do anything to justify their monopoly status the ability to skim from rate payers ludicrous executive compensation schemes. It’s a ridiculous scam that appears to be the new (old?) American Way. The ROI from CL&P’s lobbying and public relations department far exceeds anything they can earn from … you know actually selling electricity.

        • The standards of performance are set by regulators. Your beef is with them. If you want innovation you need profits. Profits are restricted. Why innovate if there is no upside? No one skims more from the rate payers than the politicians in Hartford.

          • Privatization of public utilities was supposedly to stimulate innovation and competition. Unfortunately like what much of this country has become, it was just excuse to skim unearned fees from a captive rate base with no other options. To assume that the “regulators” are some sort of separate and independent entity from the utilities is a somewhat naive view of our current state of affairs.

            • The act of regulating electric utilities reduces competition. There is little or no incentive to innovate in a highly regulated environment. Electric utilities are now required to allow access to their grid to just about anyone who wants to supply electricity; alternative sources of energy. This requirement has lowered the margins for the electric utilities, reduced their ROI, and motivated cost cutting; would you expect anything else? Why would any sane management invest in research and development in that environment?

        • I don’t see you running a public utility company Anon.

          Why don’t you get back to us when you do and let us know how it went.

          Then maybe you will realize why some CEO’s are compensated so well.

          • Clearly, you already got that covered. You must be so proud

            Let’s under regulate legislated monopolies and cross our fingers that everything will be ok. Magical thinking at its best.

    • The Dude Abides

      Vet: You know you can plant new ones if you take the old ones down. No offense, but never took you for a tree hugger.

      • YO DUDE!
        Happy 2012 !
        Me not a:
        “tree hugger – derogatory term for environmentalists who support restrictions on the logging industry and the preservation of forests.”

        Me like to see well pruned trees, not scalped… kinda why I like good haircuts. Probably my military DNA coming to the surface. The CL&P tree whackers around here SUCK BIG TIME.

        Prune responsibly = Great ! Butcher & clear cut = Bad.

        These suckers would use napalm if they could.

  5. makes great firewood too

  6. Princeton '82

    I agree with Mary Gai. Take care of your own property or form a neighborhood committee that deals with trimming trees. The doc across the street just took out four trees in her front yard that had caused havoc in the three storms you mention. Stop blaming the government or CL&P, take care of your own shit. So few property owners do anymore. If the landscapers don’t get it, they just look the other way.

    • BINGO!!!

      We Have a Winner!

      God forbid anyone in CT take any personal responsibilty for their own properties much less being prepared for an extended power outage as the Red Cross, Town Governments, State Government, etc. advise us to.

    • VETDOC at Compo

      Princeton ’82………

      You are right on! Everybody should take care of their own property.
      Don’t like the styling techniques of the CL&P pruning crew?

      GET A LIFE!

      They are trying to do a job now being done by a reduced workforce. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I credit them with what they ARE able to accomplish!

      Still NOT HAPPY?

      Go buy the proper equipment to tailor your own trees just like you’d like them to be.

      BUT, DON’T BLAME CP&P!!!!!!

  7. Dan, we at COSI (the Connecticut Open Skies Initiative) have called for sane tree removal for years. First move is the State of CT cutting down the inummerable dangerous trees on the Merritt for safety sake.
    Perhaps this would spur on more local efforts of the grassroots kind.