BPU will rethink tree-felling rules near power lines Friday, May 16, 2008

The state is going to take another crack at finding a way to save thousands of trees and keep power lines safe from damage.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has agreed to reconsider its "vegetation management" rules that would have required power companies to cut down large swaths of trees.

The plan had been criticized by residents in Bergen County and throughout the state.

Because of those complaints, the BPU has agreed to reconsider its tree-cutting rules. It will spend the next nine to 10 months holding hearings on the issue.

The requirement to cut down trees was enacted in response to the August 2003 blackout that affected 50 million people in the eastern United States and Canada. The blackout was caused by sagging power lines that brushed against a tree limb.

The plan called for trees to be removed from land directly underneath transmission lines that carry more than 69,000 volts. All the trees that can grow to more than 15 feet tall were to be removed within a 100-foot corridor of those lines.

Residents in Upper Saddle River and Montvale mobilized this year to save hundreds of trees along a Rockland Electric Co. transmission corridor that stretches from Ringwood to Closter.

Those residents were offered some relief by a BPU decision not to subject that power corridor to the more severe tree-removal standards since those lines do not carry more than 69,000 volts.

The BPU decision to consider those lines as a "sub-transmission corridor" will give Rockland Electric the flexibility to remove only trees that are deemed to be potentially intrusive, said Ken Warren, supervising engineer for the Board of Public Utilities.

As the BPU conducts the hearings, Jane Longo, one of the leaders of an informal citizens group, said residents will keep lobbying for more guaranteed tree protections.

Warren said the BPU will start from "the equivalent of scratch" in considering new rules. But he warned that residents shouldn't expect to save all trees as utility companies are now under a federal mandate to prevent power outages from being caused by falling tree limbs.

"You are still going to have some upset people because there are still going to be some trees removed," Warren said.

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