Eversource: 'Imminent risk' prompted Darien tree removals

DARIEN — Eversource officials have reaffirmed their stance that last week’s tree trimming along Little Brook Road was necessary for “safety reasons.”

Sean Redding, head of Eversource’s vegetation management, visited the road on Wednesday, explaining to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson and residents that the pruning was an emergency measure necessary for safety reasons. But neighbors continue to question the company’s plans for the tree removal along the street.

“We’re here today to continue our collaboration so we can come up with the best resolution,” Stevenson said.

Eversource began trimming trees along Little Brook Road last Friday to eliminate what company representatives called an “imminent risk” to the electric system. The work was completed in a day, and company representatives stated no trees were to be outright removed.

Neighbors, who are fighting Eversource’s proposed removal of some 50 trees along the south side of the intersection of Little Brook and North Little Brook roads, say the electric company’s trimming plan was not warranted.

Natalie Tallis and her neighbors along Little Brook and North Little Brook roads have called on Stevenson to file a formal complaint with the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority concerning the work. Stevenson has not filed a complaint, but acknowledged the neighbors have that right.

The town’s tree warden has placed warning signs on some 50 trees, which sit at the south side of the intersection of Little Brook and North Little Brook roads. These trees have been tagged for removal as part of Eversource’s tree trimming and hazardous tree removal program.

Stevenson is supporting neighbors, who oppose the tree removals and have filed a formal objection to the tree warden’s proposed removal. Stevenson said a public hearing will be held, but no date has been scheduled.

An Eversource spokesperson, Mitch Gross, said the emergency tree work will address an immediate safety hazard in the company’s transmission right of way in Darien and a threat to electric service in lower Fairfield County.

“The energy company will be trimming trees that have grown so close to the high voltage transmission lines that they are an imminent risk to the reliability to the electric system,” Gross said. “These trees are creating an emergency situation not only posing a serious threat to system reliability but also the safety of residents living nearby.”

Redding told neighbors Eversource responded last week to a report of arcing — the crackling sound that means electricity is running over a tree, energizing it before running into the ground.

Redding said an investigation found three trees with visible signs of burning due to the arcing, with others — in his estimation — dangerously close to lines. A contractor for Eversource then pruned the trees at his direction.

“It was primarily a public safety issue,” Redding said. “Anybody near it, or touching that tree, could be shocked,” adding that it could be fatal.

He said he did not want to return to the street “over and over again,” or risk public safety, so he directed additional trimming.

One neighbor said it was “strange,” however, that these sounds have been heard for a long time along the road, but nothing had been done until now.

“A neighbor says they hear the arcing all the time,” Stevenson reported, moments after which the arcing sounds could be heard again coming from the lines nearby at the end of Little Brook.

Neighbors also voiced concern about the lack of clarity about the scope of the project.

The proposed work is part of a larger tree removal and vegetation clearing along the Metro-North train line between Fairfield and Cos Cob in Greenwich. Gross said this particular land in Darien is broken into pieces owned by the town, Metro-North, Eversource and the state.

Stevenson said other trees, aside from the 40 to 50 on town lands, will also be removed. But since those are on state land, no posted warnings are required.

A number of trees will possibly be removed along the property abutting adjacent Selleck’s Woods and Dunlap Woods Nature Preserves, as well as at least six on Little Brook that were never marked, officials said.

“I think we’re missing the full scope of the removals,” said neighbor Alba Dexheimer, pointing out that people aren’t aware of the impact it will have on the preserve or the neighborhood in terms of noise and appearance.

With environmental factors, including droughts, insects and climate change impacting the trees, Redding said it was unknown how they would respond if left unattended.

“Everybody loves their trees,” said Tracy Alston, Eversource’s community liaison to Darien. “Unfortunately, trees and power lines are not compatible.”

She said, however, the company wants to work with the town and neighbors with a more cooperative approach — something that wouldn’t have happened 15 years ago.

“That’s why we’re standing here right now,” she said.