Weary tree wardens warn about plantings
Connecticut towns and cities should rethink what they are planting along local roads and consider shorter vegetation that can't interfere with utility poles and overhead wires, Fairfield's tree warden told state investigators on Wednesday.
Ken Placko, the town's 20-year veteran tree warden, said it just makes more sense to plant trees across the street from utility poles and put the shrubs where the power lines are situated.
"Maybe we should think about planting the right tree in the right area, rather than fighting all the time with having these old trees that are there," Placko said to the governor's panel reviewing the response of utilities to the August and October storms that knocked out power throughout the state.
"If they're going to go, go back and plant something smaller that wouldn't interfere with the lines," Placko said.
Joseph McGee, co-chairman of the storm-review panel and a Fairfield resident who likes the three 80-year-old sugar maples in front of his house, asked whether they were a bad idea.
"We've learned a lot over the years," Placko said. "When those trees were planted 80 years ago, the idea was just planting a tree. Wires weren't even a big consideration probably back then, as much as they are now."
Placko said that while every town and city in Connecticut has a tree warden, their budgets vary wildly.
He said that United Illuminating Co. is usually amenable to work with the town. "When we call, they can come, we'll work out a schedule where they can help us out and remove that particular tree."
Under questioning from McGee, Archie McCullough, senior director for system integrity for the UI, agreed that the best way to deal with the potential effect that trees have on overhead power lines is to cut them down.
For UI, that would mean axing 300,000 trees, or about 100 trees per mile of power lines.
Two officials from the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority told the panel that the agency only reviews annual tree-trimming programs of the utilities and does not have guidelines.
Under a barrage of questions, the officials admitted that it is essentially up to the utilities. "I'm not trying to be mean here," McGee said. "I'm trying to understand. We have to understand what is the standard?"
Placko has a $750,000 annual budget, while Karl Reichle, warden for the town of South Windsor, gets about $40,000. Greenwich, meanwhile, has a $1.5 million budget, Placko told the commission.
Reichle complained that if homeowners deny permission for him to trim or remove trees on private property, there is nothing he can do. And often, when he notifies homeowners that he wants to take down a tree, they will complain to their town council members and apply pressure against him.