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Tuesday, April 24 Opinion

Hines Sight / Axing 25,000 trees too high a cost to curb outages

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

From the poem "Trees"

When I first read the article in this newspaper about United Illuminating Co.'s "vegetation management program," that poem by Joyce Kilmer immediately came to mind.

The poem, which I'm sure many of us remember learning from our early school days, goes on for five more stanzas and ends with: "Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree."

Tell that to UI.

The utility company's plan seeks to trim or remove trees near power lines to avoid outages caused when storms take down limbs or trees. The plan is the culmination of numerous studies following tropical storms Irene and Sandy, both of which caused widespread damage and outages.

No one likes outages. But I bet people like trees more.

During a recent Board of Selectmen meeting when a UI representative provided an update and overview, First Selectman Michael Tetreau said Fairfield Public Works Director Joseph Michelangelo estimated between 20,000 and 25,000 trees in town could fall under the plan. That's disconcerting, to say the least.

UI's program, in lieu of giving any consideration to finally burying wires underground, has prompted outrage by numerous communities in its 17-town coverage area.

Our selectmen are among those wary of UI's proposal. So am I, and you should be too.

There is no doubt some trees should be tended to, but plans such as this one have a way of getting out of hand.

Trees provide many uses. According to a position paper by New Haven Urban Resources Initiative, which objects to UI's program, "In addition to their natural beauty, they help to improve air quality and public health, diminish noise pollution, reduce storm water runoff, and lower energy bills through their cooling effect. Therefore, trees should be treated with respect and care."

There is something very peaceful about being surrounded by trees. I once worked with a woman who originally was from Texas. When I asked her one day about the difference between her home state and her adopted one, she replied, "Trees." Much of the Lone Star State's landscape, apparently, is devoid of trees.

I am surrounded by trees at my house. I admit I took some down, but only a few small ones and in an effort to improve the life and health of nearby ones and to bring more sunlight onto my vegetable garden. I was being environmentally smart.

When the grove of trees in my backyard are in their full glory, including the huge poplar behind my garage, I am shielded and secluded so I can sit on my deck quietly or lounge in my inflatable pool unseen by neighbors. And I am serenaded by the birds.

A couple of my neighbors have indiscriminately removed trees on their properties. One, I was told, took some down so they didn't have to rake leaves, and another, well, I'm not sure why she did it. I was told that some trees were removed in her backyard because she didn't want the wild turkeys there anymore.

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Yes, we have turkeys, and they like to live here. (That could be because my other environmentally-conscious and animal-loving neighbors feed them on a regular basis.) Oh, and those turkeys hang out in the trees in my backyard. I like having them there, as well as the host of other wildlife that seem to congregate.

Back to UI. The company tries to be comforting and says no tree on private property will be removed or trimmed without the owner's knowledge and consent.

I have three huge trees in the front of my house that border my busy road.

They are a noise buffer and cool my house. I discovered when a large limb fell on my property, with part of it draped onto the road, that those trees actually are in the public right of way. The town removed the limb and trimmed the tree after I asked about it.

Even though UI says it would confer with Fairfield's tree warden and with me, I fear I would lose the battle. And once those trees come down or are substantially trimmed, I would be surrounded by car and truck noise and my house would roast. I don't have air conditioning.

The UI rep told the selectmen that the company projects pruning or cutting down trees from about 20 miles of road in town per year. Fairfield has 273 miles of streets. The job would take about 14 years to complete. That's plenty of time to let UI and the town know what you think. If you want to know more about what UI has in store, visit www.uninet.com/trees.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with this, from A.E. Housman:

"Give me a land of boughs in leaf,

A land of trees that stand;

Where trees are fallen there is grief;

I love no leafless land."

Patricia A. Hines is a Fairfield writer, and her "Hines Sight" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at hinessight@hotmail.com. She also can be followed @patricia_hines on Twitter.