Planning Board Discusses Scenic Road Tree Trimming with NSTAR

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A discussion for tree trimming on Hopkinton scenic roads took place with NSTAR Arborist Chris Fallon and representative JoAnne O’Leary during the June 16 Planning Board meeting. The deliberations are inconclusive at this time and will be continued to a later meeting date.

The goal of NSTAR is to provide safe and reliable public electric service to its customers. Part of this is done through tree trimming to keep branches away from power lines. Trees can be electrically conductive if they are touching a power line and can cause electric fires or break wires if they are too close. In the event of an electrical fire, the power must be cut by NSTAR before the fire is put out which can cause traffic problems on a road and other problems. To prevent tree limbs from touching power lines, NSTAR regulations require trimming 10 feet below and to the side of a power line and 15 feet above a power line. This allows for trees and wires to move in the wind without touching. A tree is first pruned for clearance and then for health and appearance. Tree trimming allows for improved power restoration when power is lost due to a storm or other factors, increases line worker safety and increases trimmer safety.

The American National Standards Institute and OSHA requirements state that any arborist not certified to work with power lines must work 10 feet away from them. Certified NSTAR arborists can work up to 2 feet and 4 inches away to clear the branches with non-conductive tools so that necessary trimming work can be done.

NSTAR is currently working towards a four year trimming cycle. An average growth for a tree is 2.5 feet per year, which with NSTAR’s trimming regulations, allows for a tree’s limbs to regrow before being trimmed again. When trimming work needs to be done, Fallon stated that the tree wardens are contacted with a plan and with a trimming circuit route and a site meeting is done to explain what work has to be done and why. Home owners are also contacted to explain the work that will be done. Any trees that have caused a power outage are prioritized in the four year cycle for trimming. If a tree has to be removed, it is not done so without the owner’s or tree warden’s permission.

This year, three trimming circuits are scheduled to take place in Hopkinton with about 25 miles taking place on scenic roads. It takes about one week of trimming to complete one mile, and multiple groups would be working at a time. Board Chairman Ken Weismantel had concerns about the amount of pruning that would be done according to regulations on the scenic roads, stating that trimming 10x10x15 feet “would completely decimate the trees that we have tried to protect along all the scenic roads.”

“It just does not result in scenic roads… If you take the trees all down, then what’s the value of the scenic road?” said Weismantel.

Many trees on the scenic roads were planted before the electric lines were put in, and some trees were lost when electric boxes were added to the system. There have also been complaints on the loss of trees on West Main Street which is a scenic way. The vegetation had been cleared while trunks were left behind. Fallon stated that the trunks will likely be removed at a later date. However, Weismantel wanted to find a different solution for the trimming of trees on scenic roads. There are also wires that cross streets in order to avoid the trees on the scenic roads.

Hopkinton Area Land Trust (HALT) president David Goldman spoke at the meeting, stating that there are properties along scenic roads and that a lot of them have conservation restrictions, however, Fallon can get permission to trim from the tree warden. Goldman also noted that HALT has care of the properties along these areas from the right of way back.

However, when it came to safety, Board member Deb Thomas said, “It’s a fine line… We all appreciate and enjoy the scenic roads, but at the same time, if it’s not safe, then… we have to allow pruning.”

Selectmen and Zoning Advisory Committee Chairman John Coutinho also stated that the Committee had taken on this problem in the past Committee’s deliberations after a tree trimmer in Holliston lost his life after accidentally touching a power line. The Committee worked on a bylaw that would regulate pruning for any 4 inch or wider limbs.

Many of the trees growing along the scenic roads are oaks, which have a slower growth rate. Weismantel felt that trimming should be determined by the type of tree. Although the rest of the town has been pruned according to the 10x10x15 specifications, minimum pruning specifications are 8 feet below, 8 feet to the side, and 12 feet above the wire. Fallon stated that pruning specifications can change depending on the type of tree and that the tree warden can work with arborists during trimming.

Fallon asked if it would be possible to use an NSTAR notification letter to tell residents about upcoming work that would be done, but to do so would require a change in the bylaw which would not be approved until next May.

For the next meeting, Fallon will discuss a trimming plan with the tree warden and bring it back to the Board. Also requested were a list of power outages caused by trees in the area and a look at a trimming box for different kinds of trees. If a resident has a question about tree trimming, they can contact NSTAR with their questions.

To see the full meeting, click here.