October 1, 2013
Dear Supervisor Arden and Town Board Members:
My thanks to Supervisor Arden for his recent update regarding the hardening of our power lines and the tree cutting program now under way. However, much more information is needed. As you know, I raised this issue at the last Town Board meeting. In addition, last week I sent all of you an email asking about the tree cutting on School Street.
I think we all agree that hardening our power lines and cutting back or cutting down trees in a planned and logical fashion makes sense. This is especially true considering the suffering experienced by our residents due to extended power outages over the past few years. However, I am troubled by the lack of information disseminated to residents regarding the tree cutting program. Early last week, many of us became concerned with the sudden marking and cutting of trees on School Street. The majority of residents were not adequately informed about the project. The only specific information recently sent out about the project was Supervisor Arden's update on Friday evening, September 27th. This was sent out after the issue was raised at the last Town Board meeting, and after the tree cutting had begun.
I have spent a number of days researching this project and I am troubled by an obvious lack of process and resident input. I have been made aware of the following:
· Con Edison reports that they met with town officials and that a "site walk or drive" was conducted with these town officials. At that time the tree cutting program was explained in detail.
· Con Edison officials offered to meet with residents at a town meeting to describe all aspects of the tree cutting program. A town official refused their offer.
· The tree cutting project was being planned as far back as this past spring.
· Con Edison presented a plan to a Town official or officials for their process of identifying trees to be cut. It is not a “distance from the road” selection but a specific targeting plan. What is the plan?
· The Conservation and Open Space Committees were not consulted on this project.
· Contrary to statements in Supervisor Arden's September 27th update, some residents have not received prior notification about tree cutting. One family informed me that they came home from work and the trees were cut without any prior warning.
Based upon this information, I believe that the residents should be made aware of your answers to the following questions:
· Why was Con Ed’s offer to meet with residents refused? Who refused their offer?
· Which town officials participated in the "site walk" with Con Ed? Why were the results not shared with residents?
· If Con Edison had presented a plan for cutting down trees, why were the Conservation and Open Space committees not consulted for their input? Furthermore, why were they not consulted on the entire project from the start of the planning process? It would have been logical to involve representatives from these committees in all aspects of this project.
· Has the Town been monitoring the private contractor, Lewis Tree Company, to determine if they have been adhering to the tree cutting plan presented by Con Ed? Who is watching what they do to be certain that it makes sense and that a logical TOWN APPROVED plan is being followed - not clear cutting?
On June 20th, 2013 Con Edison issued a report titled “Post Sandy Enhancement Plan’ (Source: http://www.coned.com/publicissues/PDF/post_sandy_enhancement_plan.pdf). On page 42 of this report is the following statement:
“Released a mailing to customers in North Castle, informing them of our plans to trim trees more aggressively and offering opportunities for feedback. We will also schedule community meetings to inform landowners of our plans to be more proactive in identifying hazardous trees and listen to their feedback.”
My understanding is that these mailings were sent only to property owners along the path of the proposed tree cutting. Would it have been reasonable to post this letter on the Town’s website so it could be reviewed by all residents? More importantly, what happened to the “community meetings” that Con Ed asked to schedule? Why were these meetings not encouraged and held, per Con Ed’s request?
It is perfectly understandable for the Town and Con Ed to attempt to harden critical power lines in North Castle and to trim and/or harvest trees. However, the large amount of tree cutting has been a stunning development for many of us. Con Edison's offer to give a presentation to residents should have been accepted. This meeting could have been broadcast on TV and uploaded to the town website for viewing by residents. We would have been prepared for what is now happening or could have given them the feedback that they were obviously seeking. Con Edison seems to have gone out of their way to inform our residents and seek feedback, but they were rejected. Who rejected their offer?
We have committees and boards like Conservation and Open Space for a reason. Residents are chosen for these committees who can provide valuable input on exactly these types of projects. We also have a Town Code for a reason. Open government requires that residents be educated and informed by their Town officials. In my opinion, the process of open government has failed in this situation. We have no published input from independent advisors or from the Conservation Board or Open Space Committee informing us that the plan makes sense. Evidently only one or a few "Town Officials" were involved and the residents were not adequately informed or asked for input. The Town Code also seems to have been ignored.
I present the following pertinent quotes from our Town website regarding these important committees/boards:
"The Board provides information to residents for the protection of open space, water resources, erosion control, tree preservation and wildlife conservation… It assists in sound planning to assure the preservation of natural and scenic resources."
Open Space Committee:
The Committee is charged with working with Town officials on:
#5. Developing procedures for applying the protective techniques for open space preservation identified in the Report of the Town of North Castle Open Space Study Committee, June 2003, and working with Town officials to apply these techniques to each parcel.
OSC Criteria for Identifying and Prioritizing Properties for Potential Open Space Acquisition
Adopted by OSC on November 2, 2005:
•Scenic significance including reclamation of environmentally compromised areas and visually blighted areas
•Presence of old growth trees and forests
Our Town Code specifically references the issue of tree cutting:
· 192-1-Legislative intent. The Town of North Castle finds and declares that the preservation of trees as defined herein within the Town is necessary to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the Town of North Castle because trees provide shade, impede soil erosion, aid water absorption and retention, inhibit excess runoff and flooding, enhance air quality, offer a natural barrier to noise, provide a natural habitat for wildlife, provide screening, enhance property values and add to the aesthetic quality of the community.
· Section 192-3: Except as provided in § 192-4, it shall be unlawful to conduct, directly or indirectly, any of the following activities in the Town of North Castle unless a permit is obtained pursuant to § 192-5:
-Removal of a tree within a property's regulated setback zone or landscape buffer zone.
-Removal of a significant tree.
-Removal of any tree in wetlands, within clearing lines, or conservation easements.
-Removal of any street tree within the right-of-way.
-Removal in any calendar year of more than 10 trees on any lot.
My understanding is that none of this was done or followed. Therefore the current tree cutting program may be in violation of the intent of the Town code.
Documents obtained from Con Ed indicate that the focus of this project will be a 4 mile corridor winding through our community called the “Armonk Loop”. It runs up Main Street/Route 128, across School Street, on to Cox Avenue, north on Route 22, then down Bedford – Banksville Road. Town employees have been informed by the Lewis tree company that they will take down 837 trees along this “loop”. Yet Con Ed claims that they have no knowledge of this figure. Is Con Ed communicating with the Lewis Company? The time has come for the North Castle officials, Con Ed and Lewis to get on the same page.
North Castle residents deserve detailed answers to these questions. We also deserve the benefit of input from the knowledgeable residents who serve on these important boards and committees. I applaud an effort to harden our power lines and manage the trees along these lines. However, the cutting of these trees, particularly some old ones, will affect the character of our town and should not be undertaken without public input, due consideration and adherence to our Town Code.
Neal J. Baumann