Monterey residents upset by power company tree cutting

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MONTEREY — Residents are bemoaning lost trees and a changed landscape as a power company travels Monterey to clear its lines.

They wish town officials had given them a chance to weigh in on the scope of National Grid's project, which, they say, already has butchered one winding roadside.

"I call it `The Route 57 Chainsaw Massacre,' said former town tree warden Roger Tryon, referring to work already performed there. "It now has a Massachusetts Turnpike look to it."

Tryon and his wife, Katherine Tryon, who live on New Marlborough Road, have joined other residents to protest what the utility might do there.

"Our road is a beautiful, narrow, tree-lined back road, and this feels intrusive," he said. "It seems excessive to remove all of the undergrowth, and some of the trees marked for cutting could be saved with some pruning. So, to me, it makes no sense. I just hate to lose our shade tree canopy."

Town and company officials say they have to balance the beauty of trees with the risk of power outages as they go about this state-mandated cutting plan for poles that hold three power lines — known as three-phase power.

They also say it's crucial to public safety.

"God forbid one of these rotten trees falls and kills somebody," said Kevin Fitzpatrick, the town's tree warden. "I love trees, mind you."

Fitzpatrick, who approved the company's plan, said National Grid will work with property owners to preserve a particular tree unless it is dying and must be removed. Katherine Tryon confirms that the company is considering property owners' requests to leave intact some undergrowth, or small trees.

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National Grid is working its way through Monterey, limbing or felling dying trees on Pixley and Main roads, and parts of New Marlborough, Tyringham, Hupi, Beartown, Fox Hill and Chestnut Hill roads.

Other nearby towns also will see trimming projects.

The company says its work keeps power flowing reliably in Monterey, according to Christine Milligan, a National Grid media relations manager. She said power lines are exposed to risks from trees.

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"That means increasing clearance between our feeder and trees," she wrote in an email. She said local workers are talking to abutters and taking each tree into consideration.

"The result should be that it will still look like a natural tree line," she said. All abutters have signed off on the plans so far, Milligan said.

Yet, some residents worry that a landscape they love will change.

"I'm a tree-hugger," said Steve Snyder, who lives and works at nearby Gould Farm. Snyder says he worries that the company uniformly will cut and trim without regard to aesthetics.

Others say public safety in a town with many older residents is most important. The emerald ash borer has harmed many trees here and maple stands are aging.

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"I can't chase insects away and I can't revive dying trees," said Fitzpatrick, the tree warden. "I have to do what's best for the town as a whole."

He also says the project ultimately will save the town "a large sum of money."

Shawn Tryon, fire chief and director of the Department of Public Works, says trees and falling limbs impair public safety and create problems during winter storms.

"It's like a domino effect here," he said.

Still, Roger and Katherine Tryon are frustrated. They say public safety doesn't justify excessive clearing of what might be healthy trees, and undergrowth.

Steven Weisz, a Select Board member, said he and other officials don't want to see the tree canopy lost, since it's "one of the things that makes Monterey special." He said concerned residents still can reach out to board members.

"I knew this was going to happen, because this is a very emotional issue," he said of the controversy. "But, we want people to be safe."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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