Tree damage in Woodbury. CTMirror

Trees are a beautiful and treasured feature of New England’s cultural landscape. In Woodbury, nearly a dozen notable town trees are among the state’s largest and most historic.

Over the past few years, the dire health of our trees has reached a crisis point due to Emerald Ash Borer and Gypsy Moth infestation, and cumulative drought conditions. As we’ve seen in recent storms, trees can wreak havoc -– knocking out power to residents and critical facilities, as well as blocking roads for our first responders. We know that the state’s tree problem is far too great for any one of us to address alone. As Woodbury’s emergency management director, tree warden and first selectwoman, and Eversource’s vegetation management director, we recognize that managing the state’s many dead and dying trees to help prevent power outages and enhance public safety requires our partnership.

The devastating damage that Tropical Storm Isaias left in its wake emphasized how essential year-round tree maintenance is to keep the power flowing to Connecticut homes and businesses and to prevent property damage. Tree failure is responsible for 90 percent of outages during storms in the forested Northeast, according to a recent report published by the Eversource Energy Center at the University of Connecticut. In 2020, 77 percent of Eversource customers in Connecticut who experienced power outages were impacted by tree-caused outages. With more than half of the state covered by trees, our communities depend on Eversource’s robust vegetation management programs to improve the reliability of our electric system.

Our collaborative approach is making a difference in Woodbury. Together, we’ve flagged for removal many dead and dying ash trees along the roadways that pose a threat to the reliability of electric service for the town’s residents and businesses, as well as to public safety. Electricity has enabled residents in Woodbury and throughout the state to continue working and learning in the remote environment during the pandemic. Reliable power keeps our food and some medications safe in our refrigerators. It keeps us connected with loved ones when we can’t be with them in person. Trees that were planted too close to power lines or that are unhealthy threaten these critical services and are best addressed before storms, not after.

However, as the number of dead and dying trees along our streets has increased in the past few years, Eversource has documented an increase in the number of Connecticut property owners who are refusing to provide permission to address these hazardous trees. So far this year, more than 1,400 property owners have refused to allow Eversource crews to trim branches and remove hazardous trees that could cause an outage or block roads for first responders. A single outage location caused by tree damage can include a broken pole, downed trees, downed wires, a broken transformer and a broken crossarm; and just one broken pole takes crews an average of four hours to replace.

When one property owner in a neighborhood doesn’t allow proper tree maintenance, this can undo all the other tree work that crews completed in the area and even in other communities. This is especially true with Eversource’s backbone distribution system, which travels across cities and towns throughout the state. Every customer in Connecticut relies on the backbone network to transport the power they use every day in their homes and businesses. Of the more than 1,400 property owners who have not granted permission for tree trimming and hazardous tree removal this year, more than 350 are property owners on these most critical backbone portions of Eversource’s electric system. Even if all Woodbury property owners understand and support maintaining the backbone system, one individual refusal to allow tree work in a neighboring town could cause an outage that impacts a Woodbury resident, business or our police or fire station.

We need reliable power now more than ever before and must work together to ensure the safety of our communities. If any trees on your property are showing signs of stress, which may include thinning of the crown, loss of foliage and the presence of mushrooms near the base of the tree, call a licensed arborist to help assess them. By improving the health of your trees, you’ll help prevent tree-related damage, as well as enhance the aesthetics and value of your property. You can be a good neighbor by working with us to address dead and hazardous trees, maintaining the health of the trees on your property and planting the right tree in the right place. We’re all in this together.

Dave Lampart is the Emergency Management Director for Woodbury. Bud Neal is the Tree Warden for Woodbury and owner of Neal Tree Service. Barbara Perkinson is the First Selectwoman for Woodbury. Bill Van Dam is the Director of Vegetation Management for Eversource.