The trees along Union Avenue at Saratoga Race Course have seen better days, Charles Foster said.
In the last week or two, the trees have been trimmed — Foster would say mangled — for the National Grid power lines that run through them.
“A lot of people really do look forward to the tree-lined, shady streets,” said Foster, who lives on Union Avenue but not the part where the trees were trimmed.
“Just about every resident has driven down Union Avenue and appreciated its beauty.”
National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said the company trims trees on a five- to seven-year cycle to keep branches from bringing the lines down and because if limbs touch a live wire, it’s possible for someone to get shocked by touching the tree. “The number one reason that we do this trimming is for safety reasons,” Stella said.
Foster said he understands why the trees need to be trimmed, having lived through the February 2006 blackout in Saratoga Springs. But there has to be a balance, he said.
“I don’t think they care about the trees,” he said, observing that some of the trees look like they won’t recover from the trimming.
But Stella said all the company’s trimming is done in a way that protects the health of the tree.
The trimming criteria they use were developed by the U.S. Forest Service and endorsed by the International Society of Arbor Culture, Stella said. What’s more, National Grid has been recognized by the National Arbor Day Foundation for its trimming practices, he said.
“When we trim, we factor in the growth patterns and the habits. We look at the specific trees that are there and we try to predict where they’re going to grow and how they’re going to grow.”
Crews leave a six- to 10-foot clearance around power lines, which either results in the tree being cut short below the lines or the branches being cut in a wide V shape to keep middle branches from getting too close to the wires.
“Everywhere possible, we try not to harm the future health of the tree,” he said.
National Grid has about 36,000 miles of electric wires in upstate New York, and more than 12 million trees grow near those lines. Crews are out all season during the warm weather trimming trees so they don’t interfere with the lines.
“We estimate more than 3,000 annual interruptions in upstate caused by trees,” Stella said, adding that doesn’t even include major storms.
In addition to Union Avenue, the company also recently trimmed trees on Lake Avenue, East Avenue and Henning Road. Reese, a Pennsylvania-based subcontractor using local workers, did the trimming in Saratoga Springs along with National Grid’s own in-house crews, Stella said.
Foster said he got a letter from the electric utility saying his portion of Union Avenue, between Nelson Avenue and Circular Street, is next on the list for trimming. “The damage has been done, but it isn’t over yet,” he said.
Stella said National Grid won’t be trimming that section of Union Avenue.
Mayor Scott Johnson said late Monday afternoon he got an e-mail from Foster about the trees and planned to drive by them Monday evening to check out the pruning job for himself.
“I think everybody’s concerned when a utility company comes through and starts pruning trees,” Johnson said. He said he understands the safety issues and hopes to coordinate with National Grid to keep the pruning from being too garish. “You have to minimize the damage of the tree to protect the public interest.”
Johnson added that he also got a letter from the utility company saying they’d be coming through his neighborhood to trim trees. He lives on Caroline Street.
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