FAIRFEILD, Conn. – As Fairfield residents filled the meeting room at the Greenfield Hill Congregational Church on Tuesday night, they had one main question for United Illuminating: What does tree-trimming look like?
Representatives from UI spoke to the crowd about its eight-year, $100 million program to ensure that the trees around its wires won’t be as much of a problem during extreme weather. But they promised to include the property owners in the process.
The plan is to trim an 8-foot by 8-foot block or a 16- to 20-foot clearance zone, or utility protection zone, around the wires where a UI arborist deems it is necessary, said David Goodson, UI's manager of vegetation management.
Over the next eight years, the utility company will be working with Fairfield Tree Warden Ken Placko on the program. No tree would be cut down or pruned without written permission from the property owner, Goodson said. A permit will be obtained for the work done on each tree -- whether it is for pruning or cutting it down.
“It all requires consent,” Goodson said. Everything from removing brush to cutting down trees would need prior written consent from the property owner, he said.
The program also includes a number of safeguards. Any resident unhappy with the plan presented by UI can appeal to Placko. He can agree with the plan, agree with the resident, make adjustments to the plan or send the plan to the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority, which would make the final decision.
In response to a question from Fairfield resident Joyce Hendrickson, Goodson said there wasn’t one way to explain what the pruning would entail. Each individual tree would be assessed on a case-by-case basis, he said. One of UI’s arborists would discuss the process with the property owner in person.
About 20,000 to 25,000 trees across Fairfield might be removed during the tree-trimming program, Placko said. There are about 40,000 to 45,000 trees along the streets in Fairfield currently, he said.
“It will be a kind of shock-and-awe kind of approach,” Placko said, adding that he will be monitoring the process.
But Cale Tallman of Fairfield called what happened to his property a nightmare. UI cut down about 40 trees on his property earlier this year, as it replaced several poles on the edge of his land.
“I hope that this program isn’t going to be like the experience I had,” Tallman said.
Many also voiced concerns about stump grinding and removal, but Goodson said the budget didn't have the money for that at this time.
To state Rep. Brenda Kupchick, this cautious process is necessary but new. “I’m optimistic,” she said.
“We have to protect the public,” Kupchick said. “But we also don’t want our town to look like the Sahara Desert.”