Selectmen Approve Removal of More Than 100 Trees in Effort to Prevent Loss of Electricity this Winter

Despite resistance from some residents, selectmen, on Aug. 20, gave National Grid the OK to remove 106 trees in town.

Snapped wires weighted by wet snow are almost a winter tradition in Westford.

But now, National Grid is seeking to solve the problem by removing trees that grow upwards and into the wires and conductors that transport electricity into homes.

Since the Ice Storm in December 2008, residents have gone without electricity in winter for as long as two weeks. The occurrences have caused tempers to boil and prompted town officials to demand something be done.

The anger and exasperation is aimed at National Grid, the international company which owns the transformers and wires throughout much of this region including Westford.

The sequence of events typically begins with a storm of heavy snow falling on tree branches that then sag onto strung wires. The wires break from the weight, cutting off the flow of electricity.

At the meeting, Tree Warden Richard “Chip” Barrett and National Grid Forrest Supervisor Seth Bernatchez presented a list of streets where the trees will be removed.

“The trees in a public right of way were catalogued by arborists that took roughly 5 months of time to go through and assess the trees, talk to the abutters and the private home owners along those routes…,” said Bernatchez.

Bernatchez said the Merrimack Valley is one of the worst areas for downed wires in the winter.

Trees will be removed from Concord Road, Country Road, Beaver Brook Road, Pleasant Street, Town Farm Road, Abbot Street, East Prescott Street, North Main Street, West Street.

The list prompted long-term Conservation Commissioner Eric Fahle to plead for the trees’ lives.

“I had seen the markers, and I had seen the orange tape and I had seen red blazes on the trees. And I knew what that meant because I’ve been on the Conservation Commission for over 25 years… A lot of the trees that were marked — these weren’t small trees…they’ve been here a lot longer than you and I have been on this earth,” Fahle said.

Despite Fahle’s impassioned pleas, the board approved National Grid’s proposal by a vote of 3 to 0. Selectmen Scott Hazelton and Andrea Peraner-Sweet were absent from the meeting.

“There’s a number of trees they’d like to remove to harden their lines for storms,” said Barrett.

Bernatchez said the company is looking to remove trees that are too close to the conductors and establish a healthy tree line behind that.

“The problem is the tree has a genetic make up that likes to grow up into the wires. We are then every five years cutting the tree down and we want to take a long term view and look for trees that are compatible under wires…” he said.

Bernatchez said National Grid’s regular plan calls for trimming trees every five years.

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