Peggy Pelletier was accustomed to NStar crews occasionally pruning in her backyard throughout the 30 years she’s lived in her Duxbury home. She knew the electric company had an easement on her property, which is situated next to distribution lines.
But she wasn’t accustomed to what’s happened lately. About two months ago, she received a notice from NStar saying that the trimming would increase. After vegetation-management staff came through and tagged trees, Pelletier learned just what that increase would mean.
“They are coming 30 to 40 feet closer to my home than they’ve ever come before,” she said. Pelletier has met with an NStar representative and learned she will lose 20 trees — including four that hold up a tree house her son and husband built and a 2-foot-high tree that her son gave her for Arbor Day years ago.
Other Duxbury residents are facing similar situations, with many standing to lose even more trees. Though residents don’t expect to stop the plan altogether, they are hoping that discussions with the company will temper some of the effects.
“This is the worst they’ve ever done,” said Susan Ladd. Like Pelletier, Ladd has lived in her Duxbury home for 30 years and was used to NStar’s clearing on her 3-acre property. There are now 12 trees in her yard, she said, and after the latest clearing plan she will have six.
According to NStar, the clearing is necessary to maintain reliable electric service. The company’s plan involves removing all trees or plants that could grow taller than 3 feet in the “wire area,” which is within 10 feet of the lines.
In the “border zone,” or the area that extends from the wire area to the edge of the easement, NStar plans to remove all trees and plants that have the potential to grow taller than 15 feet. Next year, crews will apply herbicides along the rights of way to prevent vegetation from growing back.
“Trees are the number-one cause of power outages,” said Mike Durand, NStar spokesman. “Every day our arborists balance the aesthetics of the trees with the local property owners’ concerns and reliability of electrical services.”
Durand explained that utility companies nationwide are moving toward policies that clear more of their rights of way after two recent blackouts that affected millions of customers in the Northeast. One blackout in Ohio in 2003 occurred when an unpruned tree brushed against a power line.
Last year, residents in western suburbs such as Sudbury, Framingham, and Wayland fought the utility company on its clearing plans, with little luck.
In May, Duxbury’s Board of Selectmen held two meetings with NStar and neighborhood representatives. After the latest meeting, on May 16, NStar agreed to meet with individual homeowners along the right-of-way easements.
The utility also agreed to grind stumps, and to loam and seed any cleared areas that were landscaped, such as lawns or mulched areas.
In addition, homeowners will be provided a list of trees that are compatible with NStar’s guidelines for the border zone. After meeting with property owners, NStar said, it would consider replanting compatible trees on some properties that they would place on a mitigation list.
“We’re trying to find a middle ground where people can have a one-on-one conversation with NStar prior to work taking place,” said Selectman Shawn Dahlen.
Despite these efforts, Duxbury residents are reeling from these clearing plans that they say will have a negative effect on property values, privacy, and wildlife.
“We recognize that with the easement they have the right to clear, but up until now it’s been selective,” said Jennifer Niles. “They have carte blanche and instead of being a good neighbor and acknowledging that clear-cutting isn’t a good policy, they’re going to clear-cut and be done with it.”
Property owners are also asking that NStar more formally define the easement. “We want NStar surveyors to measure accurately. If they’re off by 10 feet and that allows some homeowners to maintain some sort of privacy, that’s a big issue,” said Niles.
Pelletier agrees. “Show us a real survey and mark the boundaries,” she said, adding that a formal survey would make the electric company legally accountable.
The clearing had been scheduled to begin in early June. As a result of the latest meeting with residents and selectmen, NStar agreed to delay the initial mowing, which would prepare the area for clearing, while representatives meet with individual homeowners. The new mowing date is June 15.
Any resident whose property abuts the easement and has concerns about the clearing plans can contact NStar for an individual meeting at 508-732-4206. Residents can also ask for Duxbury’s tree warden or conservation agent to be present at the meeting, according to Dahlen.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the number of customers affected by two recent blackouts. Millions of customers in the Northeast were affected, according to an NStar spokesman.