Though environmentalists feel it didn't go far enough, the state's recent ruling on tree trimming by utility companies injects balance and common sense into the process.
After the major storms of 2011 and 2012 wreaked havoc with the state's power lines — 80 percent of the memorable power outages were tree-related — Connecticut Light & Power Co. and United Illuminating began an "enhanced" trimming program to lessen the chances of trees and branches falling on power lines.
But residents from New Haven to Wethersfield complained that the companies were too aggressive, cutting more trees than necessary and ruining the aesthetics of streets and roads. Last year the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority asked the utilities to scale back the cutting while it reviewed the matter.
Meanwhile, the General Assembly weighed in this year, requiring notice of trimming and the opportunity for abutting property owners to object, among other measures.
The PURA ruling last week directs the utility companies to use solutions other than outright removal of vegetation whenever conditions permit. Also, contractors must have a permit from the local tree warden before pruning or removing a tree, and property owners whose property abuts the right of way where a tree is slated to be removed can object to the trimming within 10 days of receiving notice.
The idea is to strike a balance between reliability of service and the many values of street trees. Along with being lovely to look at, trees clean the air and water, shade our homes, calm traffic, reduce noise and otherwise improve the places where we live.
Hopefully the new ruling will encourage companies and towns to keep healthy trees, judiciously trimming where appropriate, and remove only hazardous trees. Where possible, the companies should bury wires or use harder overhead wires. Connecticut has an estimated 1.1 million trees along 21,000 miles of roads. They are much more assets than liabilities, and should be treated that way.