New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Towns partner with utility to prepare for next storm

- By John Moritz

After avoiding downed trees and a mess of disabled utility wires from Tropical Storm Henri’s glancing blow last week, Connecticu­t’s largest utility is already preparing for the next storm.

Eversource Energy announced this week that it would partner with more than a dozen towns impacted by Henri, including many in eastern Connecticu­t. The partnershi­p will expand upon the utility’s normal post-storm cleanup work, and include surveying and removing dead trees that could fall on wires and knock out power during future storms.

The region stretches from Guilford to Woodstock, which is facing dual climate crises from the deaths of thousands of trees due to drought and insect infestatio­ns, as well as the threat of more frequent storms.

Felled trees are the primary source of power outages during storms in Connecticu­t, according to Eversource Manager of Vegetation Management Sean Redding. Every outage has the potential to impact a wide area, including hospitals, police and fire stations, he said.

The work is “not just addressing the storm-damaged trees, but other pre-existing hazardous conditions that may not have failed during this storm but could in future storms — to avoid the outage,” Redding said.

Guilford First Selectman Matthew Hoey praised the company’s outreach to communitie­s impacted by Henri, while pointing to the criticism levied toward Eversource and other utility companies due to widespread outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020.

“Eversource is being very proactive, which is good to hear,” Hoey said.

Many towns in the region are burdened by soaring costs to remove a backlog of dead and dying trees. While it is the Department of Transporta­tion’s responsibi­lity to clear trees along state-owned roadways, Redding said there are no dedicated federal or state resources to help towns manage the problem along their own streets or property.

In Guilford, for example, the town budgeted $125,000 for tree removal this year, an increase of $15,000 over the previous budget.

According to Redding, Eversource will pick up some of that burden under a newly formed partnershi­p with towns by having its crews cut down trees deemed hazardous. The municipali­ties will still be tasked with hauling away the trees once they are cut, he said.

While Redding and an Eversource spokesman declined to provide figures on how much the utility was spending on the local partnershi­p or how many trees they planned to remove, the utility has shared figures showing staggering increases in its overall tree removal budget.

Redding told Hearst Connecticu­t Media in July that Eversource plans to spend $72 million on vegetation management and $32 million on tree removal this year, up from the $24 million it spent a decade ago.

The DOT has also seen costs soar in its efforts to remove trees from state highways. The agency budgeted $10 million for tree removal this year, more than double the $4.9 million it spent in 2018.

Spokesman Kevin Nursick said rising expenditur­es were kicked off by drought conditions and twin infestatio­ns of emerald ash borer beetles and gypsy moths several years ago, which together killed thousands of trees. Now, the state has to contend with another emerging threat: the spread of invasive spotted lanternfli­es.

The agency removed 87,447 trees from Connecticu­t roadways in the last fiscal year, according to Nursick.

“As to what we reasonably expect projecting out — we anticipate elevated funding levels for the foreseeabl­e future to continue to address the ongoing tree die-off,” Nursick said in an email Friday.

“Exactly how much? Well, that’s difficult to say with certainty. We do know that we still have a lot of work ahead of us just dealing with [the emerald ash borer] and gypsy moth-related issues.”

Redding said he hoped federal support for tree removal would be included in the final version of the $1 trillion infrastruc­ture package currently under considerat­ion by the U.S. House of Representa­tives.

“This is roads, electric grid, communicat­ions,” Redding said. “I would say that that would be part of infrastruc­ture, and longterm sustainabi­lity of that infrastruc­ture would include managing that road right-ofway, which includes these trees.”

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