Shelton tree-trimming by UI upsets some residents

Ongoing tree-trimming work by United Illuminating is causing some concerns, especially about the impact on the rural character of the White Hills neighborhood.

“To see century-old maples halved is very disturbing to the community,” said Renee Marsh, who lives in White Hills.

While she understands “the need for pruning to protect the power lines, this is unilateral and indiscriminate removal of trees for a set distance,” said Marsh, a member of the Olde Ripton Garden Club in Shelton.

Impact the area's country charm?

Marsh said White Hills is a place that people visit for its country charm, especially in the fall when they go to vineyards, apple orchards and pumpkin patches, and she’s unsure there will be much foliage to admire this autumn.

Joyce Donnelly, the garden club’s president, also is unhappy about the extent of the work.

“This is very bad,” Donnelly said. “They’re basically leaving the trees cut in half. I can’t see how they will survive — plus, they look ridiculous.”

Crews are removing all the branches near the power lines, but leaving the branches away from the lines untouched, leaving odd-looking trees behind, Donnelly said.

Many crews out in Shelton

Complaints have generally focused on secondary roads, not state roads such as Route 110.

People have said too many trees are being cut back on such roads as East Village, School and Beardsley.

With the arrival of spring weather, the crews have been out in force. This past Saturday, three tree-cutting crews were working along Route 110 from north of downtown into White Hills.

Another crew was on Longfellow Road, a road in the Upper White Hills near the Monroe border.

One Longfellow Road homeowner was outside observing as a large tree in his front yard was being cut into pieces after being taken down.

He was pleased the tree had been felled, noting it was beginning to rot. “I’m very happy,” said the homeowner, who preferred not to use his name. “The [tree crew] foreman told me most people are happy.

“The only ones not happy,” he said, “are the ones who never like to see trees cut down.”

UI viewpoint on the work

Officials from UI defended the work.

Joseph Thomas, UI vice president for electric systems operations, said it was being done in accordance with the state’s new utility protection zone established after a few years of major storms frequently knocked out power for extended periods.

Thomas noted that the program’s purpose is “to minimize damage during these extreme weather events.”

Crews are attempting to create an eight-foot-wide buffer on both sides of the power lines. The city usually has a right-of-way to the first 10 feet or so of someone’s property from the edge of the road, so permission therefore is needed from the city.

Thomas said property owners must give written permission for trimming to take place outside the right-of-way unless a branch directly touches the power line.

“We will not cut or remove any trees without proper approval of the stakeholder,” he said.

Met with city officials before started

UI officials met with Mayor Mark Lauretti, the Board of Aldermen and the city’s tree warden before beginning the program.

Also, advance letters have been sent to impacted homeowners and UI representatives make “direct contact” with a homeowner before any work takes place on his or her property, Thomas said.

Is all this too much?

Alderman Jack Finn, who represents White Hills, said he’s received only one constituent complaint about the issue but he does think what UI is doing goes beyond normal trimming.

For instance, from Ridgefield Road and Hickory Lane, Finn said, “they took everything down. All the pine trees in front of the old farmhouse are gone.”

Finn said he understands the need to cut back trees, but prefers that this kind of massive clearing be restricted to main roads, such as Route 110.

He has a particular concern about the Indian Well State Park road that leads to the Birchbank residential area along the Housatonic River. “Birchbank is subject to mudslides,” said Finn, noting that trees play a role in preventing such erosion.

Resident: 'Historic beauty' is threatened

Renee Protomastro, another Olde Ripton Garden Club member, said parts of the White Hills “have been decimated by the clear-cutting of many trees along public roadways. … The historic beauty of our rural past in Shelton can never be reincarnated or reinstated.”

Protomastro said it’s important for residents to know that the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has an appeals process a homeowner may pursue to try to stop a tree-trimming proposal.

The concerned residents said the public should have had more input before the work in Shelton was started.

“The community should have a role when historic districts and neighborhoods are affected,” said Marsh, stressing that trees help “define the character of our neighborhoods and our state.”