Schenectady residents upset after trees trimmed

Gillespie Street foliage was too near power lines

Thursday, January 17, 2013
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Contracted by National Grid, Lews Tree service workers trim trees along Lowell Avenue in Schenectady on Thursday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Contracted by National Grid, Lews Tree service workers trim trees along Lowell Avenue in Schenectady on Thursday.

— The beautiful row of flowering pear trees on Gillespie Street are much shorter today after being cut back and left at odd angles around the street’s power lines.

National Grid crews were working on Union Triangle on Thursday after going through the Stockade last week.

And while residents in both neighborhoods acknowledged that they don’t want to lose power when a tree limb falls on a wire during a storm, some didn’t like how deeply their trees were cut.

“If you look at it visually, you can see how extreme it is,” said Gillespie Street resident Jackie Craven. “I understand the need to protect the electrical wires. But I think they are heavy-handed and they cut more than they need to.”

Others said that the full impact of the cuts wouldn’t be realized until the leaves grow back in the spring. They predicted that their tree-lined streets would no longer have the majesty of a full tree canopy.

But National Grid forester Michael Freed said he couldn’t cut back the trees any less.

He was supervising the work, he said, to make sure trees would have enough trunk left to keep growing.

The company’s guidelines are to cut back trees so they are 10 feet away from the primary wire — the wire usually at the top of the pole. The guidelines also call for 18 inches of space between the trees and the secondary wires.

But most of Schenectady’s trees are much closer, Freed said.

“Most of these, we don’t even get 10 feet because the mature tree is within that,” he said. “The trunk of the tree may be within two feet of the wire, and we can’t get 10 feet without cutting the tree down. Nine times out of 10, we don’t take trees down in the city.”

So they cut as best they can, trying for distance without killing the tree.

That leads to unusual results — such as cutting some tree limbs far shorter than others.

Craven wasn’t impressed.

“It looks lopsided,” she said of a big tree that was cut that way. “It’s not rounded out in a way that makes sense aesthetically. Of course, aesthetics isn’t their job. But we’re saying it should be.”

National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said the crews could return to “round out” trees if residents ask.

“Sometimes we don’t look at the whole tree,” he said. “We’re trying to trim that tree for our safety concerns.”

He said residents could also walk outside during the work and ask the tree-trimmers to round out their cuts.

But those aesthetic cuts would be made after the safety cuts, he warned.

“We know it’s a very sensitive subject to our customers,” he said. “But [tree limbs falling] is pretty much the No. 1 cause of outages.”

The Gillespie Street trees were planted decades ago by ReTree Schenectady, which now plants only short trees under wires. Betsy Henry of ReTree said flowering pear trees are still sometimes used near wires, but not directly under them. “They’re medium height. So we will sometimes plant one,” she said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

She added that planting the whole row of such trees under the wires on Gillespie was decided long before she started volunteering with ReTree. Now, she said, volunteers know better.

“It’s a learning process,” she said. “The general philosophical opinion is the trees and the utility wires can’t really co-exist.”

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January 18, 2013
7:09 a.m.
tonijean613 says...

The Mayor needs to require that National Grid pay for a professional arborist to be with their crew when doing such trimming. This would not be acceptable in wealthier cities. Furthermore, such power lines on inner neighborhood streets such as Gillespie should be put underground. We need to improve each and every neighborhood street for any progress to be made in the City. National Grid should be required to improve not deface our community and they should be held accountable to remedy what they have done.

January 18, 2013
10:43 a.m.
dagiacalone says...

Thanks for covering this topic. One possible solution to this problem is contained in a bill proposed again this year in the New York Assembly by District 92 Assemblyman, Thomas J. Abinanti. Assembly Bill A02300 would add an Article 3 to the NYS Public Service Code in order to regulate the cutting, topping and removal of trees upon rights of way by providers of electric service, setting up a commission that would make and enforce regulations meant to assure that tree maintenance is done in a manner that has a less destructive impact on our trees and removes no more of a tree than is reasonably necessary.

For more information and links to A02300, and for photos of a recently-over-pruned Stockade tree, see

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