NStar should have checked with residents before cutting down swaths of trees in towns west of Boston. The effort, started last month but halted in some communities in response to residents’ complaints, is aimed at reducing blackouts. NStar’s aim is valid; trees left too close to electrical lines could fall and cause power outages after severe storms. That happened last Halloween, when 600,000 Massachusetts customers lost power during a surprise snowfall.
But whenever a utility begins work that can transform the nature of a neighborhood, it must do more than vaguely notify residents of the project. In this case, residents got letters about possible tree trimming in their area that gave little sense of the scope of the cutting. So when some returned home to stumps in place of the leafy, towering trees that stood there before, they were understandably angry: They’re losing some of the character of their neighborhoods. NStar is now halting the tree cutting in many areas to do what it should have done earlier — consult with residents and town officials.
The tree cutting is partly driven by federal regulations. But compliance with federal rules and assuring reliable service, while important, aren’t the only considerations for a public utility. The protests by residents are a good reminder that NStar also has a responsibility to engage its customers.