PURA requests temporary tree-trimming halt

The contentious radical tree trimming by the utility companies that has pitted them and some public officials against environmental advocates and nature enthusiasts is on hold for a bit – sort of.

The Public Utilities Regulatory Authority has “requested” the two utilities “curtail” their practices known as enhanced tree trimming and enhanced tree removal until it rules on tree trimming policies covering both Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating.

After a widespread outcry against UI’s policy that generally calls for cutting or removing trees within 8 feet of power lines, from ground to sky, PURA agreed to reconsider its draft decision to okay such trimming. Such trimming began in the wake of widespread power outages during Tropical Storm Irene, the October 2011 snowstorm and storm Sandy.

The volume of public comment at hearings during the reconsideration process prompted PURA’s request. “We need a time out to balance competing needs,” said PURA Chairman Arthur H. House in a statement. “One — as established by law — is Connecticut’s demonstrated need for more aggressive tree trimming to secure the reliability of vital utility services. The second need, especially articulated by communities in the New Haven and Hamden areas, is to avoid unnecessary eradication of trees and instead proceed with selective trimming.”

In a statement, CL&P said it would comply with PURA’s request, but reiterated: “It’s important to note that trees are the number one cause of power outages and we have seen tangible reduction in tree-related power outages in communities that have worked closely with our arborists to ensure clearances are maintained.”

UI, however, has asked for additional information from PURA. In the meantime Joe Thomas, vice president for electric system operations, said in a statement: “We have complied with the Town of Hamden’s request not to perform tree removals in the public right-of-way while a final ruling on the program from PURA is pending. We will continue to work with other tree wardens, and with PURA, on this process.”

PURA’s request does not apply to routine tree maintenance or emergencies.