By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Trees and branches that fell on electric wires contributed to the widespread power outages caused by Superstorm Sandy. JCP&L puts the tally at 65,000 downed trees. PSE&G estimates another 48,000 trees. Tree trimming rigs have tended to most of the downed trees. But there are still a few signs of Sandy’s wrath in communities like Chatham, also known as a Tree City USA community.
According to Chatham Council President Jim Lonergan, most of outages were tree-related. “We had at least 60 to 75 trees that went down in the town not to mention a lot of broken trees so we got hit hard by trees coming down this year, more than we have from last year,” said Lonergan.
The storm has highlighted the importance of pruning and trimming trees to protect power lines. Utility companies typically trim trees on a four-year cycle based on guidelines set by New Jersey’s Board of Public Utilities. But that policy is being reevaluated.
PSE&G spokesperson Karen Johnson said “we are trimming the tree limbs to grow away from the wires but with this storm, we may have to be even more aggressive with those policies.”
In the past, utility companies have faced some local opposition over their tree trimming programs but Chatham Council President Jim Longergan says the impact of Superstorm Sandy and last year’s hard hitting storms may have changed the mindset of some opponents.
“In the past, the electric companies have come and what we called butchered trees — we call it the L,” described Lonergan. “They made an L out of it to get branches off but we’ve been working hard with them over the last couple of years. They’ve changed their policy and they’ve created what’s in essence a V.”
Many communities like Chatham have shade tree commissions that oversee the maintenance and planting of trees. Chatham has stepped up its own tree maintenance program in recent years with positive results according to local officials.
“Our policy has changed, pruning has become more and more important, where we plant the tree and the policy of how we’re going to plant a tree has become more important,” said Lonergan. “Last year’s storm taught us a lesson and I think we learned a lot from it.”
Of course, tree trimming isn’t the only answer. Critics say overhead power lines should be put under ground to protect them, which is the case in some new developments in New Jersey. But PSE&G says putting overhead power lines underground isn’t feasible in some communities and it’s no guarantee against power outages.