Monitoring trees: Town, CL&P, property owners all have a role

Kaitlin Bradshaw
Superstorm Sandy’s hurricane winds felled giant evergreens on Umpawaug Road. —Kaitlin Bradshaw

Tropical Storm Irene and Alfred, the October snowstorm in 2011, provided the town’s highway department and tree warden with a year’s worth of work — clearing potentially hazardous trees from town roads and keeping a close eye on dead or dying trees on town property.

Now, after Superstorm Sandy’s hurricane-force winds have taken down hundreds of trees, town officials are encouraging residents to inspect trees on their own property, and to take care of them.

“We’ve always had a vigilant approach to monitoring our dead and dying trees in the town right-of-way,” First Selectman Natalie Ketcham said. “When identified, we remove them [trees] as quickly as possible. Certainly, it’s Connecticut Light & Power’s responsibility to keep trees trimmed near power lines to protect their infrastructure,” she said.

“Trees that fell in all the storms were not just town trees. Private property owners lost trees, too,” she said, but added, “The town can’t do anything about trees on private property.” Ms. Ketcham suggested having a discussion on what is an “appropriate balance” for tree management between town and private property.

There should be a discussion about how that can be achieved, she said, along with “the maintenance of our electric system to keep the protection of rural and natural beauty, which I think all Redding residents value.”

Jeff Hanson, highway superintendent, said if a resident thinks a tree is on town property, then Sean McNamara, town tree warden, should be called. Mr. McNamara will inspect it and say whether it’s a town tree or on private property.

“If it’s a town tree, he’ll tag it for whatever work needs to be done — trim it or a takedown,” said Mr. Hanson. “If it’s on private property, the property owner should have a licensed arborist take a look at it.”

But not all trees that fell during the storm could have been detected as a hazardous tree, he said.

“Most trees would have not been detected. They ended up coming down at the root. It’s not that the trees themselves were bad, but the ground was saturated and the winds knocked them down,” said Mr. Hanson. “There is no way of telling which ones are going to go.”

Mr. McNamara said the difference between Sandy and the October snowstorm in 2011 was the type of trees that fell.

Most of the damage from Sandy was to evergreen trees (spruce and pine), he said. “They took the brunt of the storm. Last year, it was oak trees,” he said.

Oak trees tend to hold on to leaves longer into the season, so last year when it snowed, the weight brought down trees, he said.

“This year we had the hurricane and the leaves blew off with the wind, but the wind caused evergreens to fall because they are resisting the wind and those are the types that came down with this hurricane,” he said.

This October was also a wet one, which is why a lot of trees were uprooted, said Mr. McNamara.

Since the two storms in 2011, the highway department and Mr. McNamara have taken down trees that threatened roadways. CL&P did work ahead of the highway department, clearing trees and branches from power lines, he said.

“That was the first wave of work; now the highway department, along with myself, will go through and look for trees that threaten roadways due to damage. This will be a priority as we move forward,” said Mr. McNamara.

However, the highway department and Mr. McNamara can manage trees only on town property. Mr. McNamara said residents with trees on their property should have an arborist do an assessment.

“The arborist can see if the tree is structurally sound, not dead or dying — dying trees can fall apart,” he said. “Trees are an important part of the landscape but can be dangerous if not looked after. Especially after storm damage, have someone knowledgeable evaluate trees and look at the damage.”

Ms. Ketcham agreed that having someone evaluate trees would be a good idea.

“I think that’d be very advisable. Even if trees are not healthy and don’t fall on power lines, they might fall on a house and for safety [reasons] for the property owner, that is always an advisable action,” she said. The town has been doing that with the tree warden, she said, adding the highway crew continually monitors roadside trees “because they are out there.”

If a highway department member is driving around town and spots a tree in need of trimming or cutting down, the member will report it and Mr. McNamara will evaluate it and decide whether it should come down, and if it does, the tree comes down, said Ms. Ketcham.

“It’s a timely issue but one that does not just involve the town; it involves private property as well,” she said.

Mr. Hanson advised using a reputable tree company to remove downed trees. If you are not experienced in tree work, “don’t do it,” he said. “It is very dangerous and should be left for a professional.”

On Monday, Nov. 5, the highway department started picking up the town trees that fell.

“We’re going around town and we will get to every street. It’ll just take time and we’ll pick up trees and limbs. We’re not doing curbside pickup. Anything in someone’s yard is their responsibility,” Mr. Hanson said.

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