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NStar suspends tree pruning after complaints

Posted by Brock Parker  July 21, 2010 04:50 PM

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Pam Donleavy said she doesn’t consider herself a tree hugger, but she’s not happy about they way NStar “butchered” many of the trees in her Arlington neighborhood earlier this month.

Donleavy said the utility company’s “unreasonable” pruning of trees along Highland Avenue has created gaping holes and opened the top of many shade trees into a “big V.”

“It’s obscene,” she said. “I don’t know if they are trying to do [enough pruning] for the next 10 years or if it’s to save them money and they don’t care about the damage to the trees, the health of the trees, or the look of the town. But it’s just way over the top.”

After receiving angry complaints from residents about trees decimated by NStar, Arlington Arlington Town Manager Brian Sullivan sent a letter to the company on July 13, saying no further trees can be trimmed in the town until the company or its contractors provide assurances that private property will be respected and appropriate standards will be followed.

NStar Spokesman Mike Durand said the company received the letter Monday and has stopped pruning trees until it can discuss the concerns with town officials.

NStar’s tree pruning has also caused run-ins with town officials in Watertown in recent weeks, and the company agreed to a moratorium on trimming around it’s power lines there at the beginning of the month.

Arlington Town Counsel Juliana Rice said she and Sullivan met with NStar officials in April to discuss excessive tree pruning, and the company said they have the authority to prune trees around electrical wires to ensure proper clearance.

But Rice said the town believes NStar has been trimming trees too aggressively.

“They may have authority to conduct routine vegetation clearance, but that doesn’t include the decimation of the trees which is what has been happening,” Rice said.

Selectwoman Clarissa Rowe said other trees have been excessively pruned on Florence Avenue and Waverley Street, and a newly formed Tree Committee held an emergency meeting last week to discuss the problem. Rowe said the pruning could kill the trees.

“What they have done is horrifying,” Rowe said. “It’s really heartbreaking.”

But Durand said that unfortunately when a tree that could grow as tall as 80 feet is under a power line that is about 20 to 30 feet high, significant trimming is often needed.
NStar has three arborists that hire contractors to do the trimming, and Durand said they regularly have to balance aesthetics with electric service reliability.

“We have a commitment and an obligation to provide safe, reliable electric service and trees are among the top causes of power outages,” Durand said.

Durand said NStar addresses concerns in every community and will meet with Arlington officials as soon as possible.

“We would like to do it as soon as possible because this is a very important project that we need to continue if we are going to maintain reliable electric service in town,” he said.

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