The Examiner

Con Edison Tree Cutting Triggers Uneasiness in North Castle

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A crew on School Street in Armonk cut down trees last Friday as part of a plan that will see new utility poles.
A crew on School Street in Armonk cut down trees last Friday as part of a plan that will see new utility poles.

Con Edison’s sudden cutting of trees last week on an Armonk street prompted several residents to question the extent of the work and whether the utility and the town delivered proper notification to the public.

The work, which started on School Street and is expected to progress to three other roads in the hamlet, is part of a $1 billion improvement project that Con Edison has planned over the next four years throughout the metropolitan area to fortify its system against service disruptions in areas prone to weather-related outages, a company official said last week.

Con Edison has informed the town that 163 new poles as well as “smart switches” are now in the process of being installed, Supervisor Howard Arden said. Tree removal is needed in areas where the new equipment will be placed, he said.

Con Edison spokesman Alan Drury said the poles will be able to withstand wind gusts of up to 110 miles per hour. About 50 smart switches will be installed with stronger wires.

“We had major hurricanes in 2011 and 2012 and we recognize that there is a new normal for weather,” Drury said. “Major storms are becoming more frequent and severe. We have an obligation to protect critical equipment and customers from these storms.”

Armonk was one of the hardest hit municipalities in Westchester following Superstorm Sandy last fall. At one point, an estimated 98 percent of the town’s electrical customers were without power. There have also been frequent widespread outages caused by other severe weather incidents during the past five years.

The areas that are targeted for removal are Main Street between Orchard Drive and School Street; School Street between Main Street and I-684; Cox Avenue between I-684 and Bedford Road; and Bedford Road between Cox Avenue and Banksville Road, according to Con Edison.

Despite assurances from the utility and Arden that Con Edison was handling the situation properly, two residents at the Sept. 25 town board meeting said they were shocked to find out what was happening on School Street.

Armonk resident Neal Baumann said he’s worried the neighborhood will become unrecognizable.

“What’s stunning to me if you look on School Street, these trees that have been tagged, if all these trees come down it is going to be stunning what that place is going to look like,” Baumann said. “It’s going to look like Levittown in 1955.”

Byram Lake Road resident Evelyn Bauer said she and many other Armonk residents came to the area to live in a more country-like atmosphere and fear that is being eroded.

“We moved to Armonk to have this type of character in our town and not have it look like Queens,” she said.

Arden said North Castle was targeted for the new poles and smart switches because of its frequent problem

“We’re one of the first municipalities to get all this attention,” he said. “While it may be inconvenient, it’s going to be a big benefit in the future.”

While Councilman Michael Schiliro agreed Con Edison’s new equipment will help many residents who have endured repeated outages, communication on the town’s part appeared to be lacking. He said it was his understanding that the town declined to hold community meetings on the issue.

“It’s certainly something that’s going to help the residents but we need to communicate this properly,” Schiliro said. “When you take down that many trees we should have some input.”

In recent years, Con Edison has been blasted by members of every level of government for unresponsiveness. In addition to the problems experienced in the aftermath of Sandy, officials whose municipalities are near transmission lines from Yonkers to Dutchess County were blindsided several years ago when thousands of acres of trees were removed by surprise. That vegetation management plan was to prevent a recurrence of the 2003 blackout when trees came into contact with wires in Ohio, setting off a chain reaction of events that plunged most of the Northeast into darkness, Drury said.

In this instance, he added that the utility complied with all of its notification obligations to North Castle and its residents. Additional outreach to town officials and residents is also planned, Drury said.

Town Administrator Joan Goldberg said Monday that residents along the affected roads were informed by letter as early as last spring that the new equipment and tree cutting would take place. While Con Edison can clear trees in its easement area, permission from individual property owners is needed to cut on private land.

Arden and Goldberg said no complaints have been received so far from School Street residents. One homeowner failed to grant Con Edison permission to remove trees, Goldberg added.

Lewis Tree Company, the firm doing the tree removal for Con Edison in Armonk, contacted the highway department about two or three weeks ago to inform the town of the plans, Goldberg mentioned.


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