Cutting On Greenway Angers Residents; BPU To Change Guidelines

greenway.jpgLast week a landscaping company hired by the Board of Public Utilities was clearing out trees from the Metuchen Greenway, angering many residents who would like to see the taller, older trees in town stay put. However, there are legal requirements regarding the removal of greenery around utility lines and poles--in fact, on the BPU website, they state that "[i]n August 2003, a massive electric power outage was caused after a tree came into contact with a transmission line in Ohio. This incident left over 50 million people in the northeast United States and southeastern Canada without electric power. After the blackout, the United States Department of Energy issued a report which instructed the electric companies to develop vegetation management programs." Rules are in place for such cuttings, yet citizens aren't always made aware of their existence.

After a comprehensive stakeholder process over the course of two years, New Jersey enacted a preliminary set of Vegetation Management rules in December 2006.  In order to ensure consistency across New Jersey's four electric distribution companies, these rules were re-adopted by the Board in February 2008 as part of an overall readoption of the Electric Service rules. The additional review accepted by the Board on May 8, 2008  will include "consideration of reduced requirements surrounding agricultural crops, as well as additional discretion for utilities within the Right of Way border zone," according to the BPU.

On December 3, at a meeting of the Vegetation Management Stakeholders of the BPU, many questions were raised in regards to the existing legislation. The first topic for discussion on the agenda was "Should the BPU consider a policy granting homeowners the right to negotiate an agreement/contract with their EDC to maintain their vegetation in the border zone?" A utility company, at present, is required to notify homeowners in the work area that there is work that is going to be done there at some point in the future. They do not state the specific date or time that the work is going to be done. According to the agenda, "Existing rules require at least 7 days notice to property owners and 60 days notice to municipal governments." Then, this question is noted on the agenda as it continues, "Increase notice for property owners to give them more time to react? Should municipalities get more than 60 days notice?"

If you look at the entire agenda, you can see that the questions being raised are questions that have clearly been concerns for homeowners in the way of public utilities' sites for a long time. This writer, for one, has learned of many of these requirements the hard way, when beautiful trees (which we considered a bonus when we first bought our home on Grove Avenue) that ran across the front of our lawn were taken down by the town because of their intersection with telephone wires that ran through their branches. We were saddened by these actions but had no legal recourse to change them. However, many citizens have banded together to try to change these laws and it seems like they are being heard.

Public outcry has brought some companies to legal blows over these issues, such as the case against a company called Transco, the owner of a gas pipeline that runs from Texas to New York, by the Township of East Brunswick. The company allowed trees in their Right of Way within the Township of East Brunswick to be hacked down but did not bother to notify neighbors. The company also allowed the chopping of trees almost 30 feet tall--their size should have kept them from being touched at all, according to established state laws. However, the township and townspeople of New Brunswick took Transco to court to try to restrict such actions. The Superior Court overruled several appeals and determined that the company is allowed to remove trees along its easement if they see a danger to public utilities continuation. There are opportunities to change these laws, however, starting with the BPU discussions.

Cutting along a major public space like the Middlesex County Greenway is another issue. In December 2002, the Middlesex County Freeholders acquired 3.5 miles of the old Lehigh Valley Railroad freight line, which was abandoned for railroad use in 1996. The railroad right-of-way runs through Metuchen, Edison and Woodbridge, with Metuchen's portion running approximately one mile in length. The flora and fauna along the Greenway include many native species in a variety of microenvironments. The Edison Greenways Group is a member of the Middlesex Greenway Coalition and has worked with federal, state, county and foundation funding to extend the greenway and protect the plants and animal life that lives on it. Citizens can join these groups to help fight unnecessary cutting and trampling of flora and fauna along these trails.

On December 18, 2008, at 7:30, the Middlesex County Greenway Coalition will be holding its monthly meeting and the public is invited to attend. The meeting at the Metuchen Library may address some of the issues that the BPU Vegetation Management Stakeholders are addressing. This agenda was not available at press time.

The process of answering these questions regarding cutting and notice to citizens and homeowners is a long road. The BPU has published the timeline which maps out the various notices and hearings that will be going out to the public on these issues. A public hearing is slated for April 15, 2009, so grievances and considerations will have opportunity to be aired. If you are concerned, check out some of these sources for more information:

Division of Energy

Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G)
80 Park Plaza
Newark, NJ

Contacts (
472 Weston Canal Road
Somerset, NJ
Central Division 732-764-3003
Engineering 732-764-3255
Tree Trimming 732-764-3059


Wouldn't the contractor have been hired by PSE&G, not the BPU?

Yeah, it's not like it's hard to tell who is dumping most of it either. Sure, some of it is kids drinking back there, but other stuff you can tell has come from the adjoining properties.

Cool, will be super for riding and skating, once route 1 gets done, the bridge over it gets done, and the path gets paved. Nice.

Good thing they are cutting back the trees too, kind of overgrown, maybe a little more light in there will be better.

Now if the could just get all the town residents who live on the greenway to STOP DUMPING GARBAGE DOWN. How hard is it to take your garbage and put it on the curb in front of your house?

Yeah, and if the county ever gets its act together it is going to pave the Greenway. Did you know that the plan for the Greenway calls for a ten foot wide strip of asphalt?

Bummer - the Greenway meeting is the same time as the Neighborhood Watch meeting AND the planning board meeting.

The town would never taken down trees on private property because of telephone wires. They're not even supposed to take down their own street trees in the wire zone - they are supposed to call PSE&G.

What state laws protect trees of a certain size? Isn't that a town by town issue? Summit, for example, has a very strict tree protection ordinance, even for trees on private property.

Metuchen does not, however, except in the case of a subdivision or site plan application, where the town can require certain trees stay put. Otherwise, if the tree is on your property, and there is no conservation easement protecting the trees, you can cut them down if you want.

NJ's BPU has adopted standards that are above and beyond the federal requirements. NJ's standards say there can't be anything growing higher than 3 feet under high voltage power lines, while the federal standards allow growth up to 15 feet. NJ standards allow trees up to 15 feet in the "border zone" along the power line right of way but federal standards allow trees up to 50 feet in the same zone. This is why the area under the power lines that cross Oakland Ave was clear cut a few years back.

It's not clear from the BPU or PSE&G web site what the standards are for regular power lines that run in front of homes. PSE&G says they have to cut back four years worth of growth because they cut on a four year cycle.

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  • Anonymous: Wouldn't the contractor have been hired by PSE&G, not the read more
  • Anonymous: Yeah, it's not like it's hard to tell who is read more
  • Anonymous: Cool, will be super for riding and skating, once route read more
  • Anonymous: Yeah, and if the county ever gets its act together read more
  • Anonymous: Bummer - the Greenway meeting is the same time as read more
  • Anonymous: The town would never taken down trees on private property read more
  • Anonymous: NJ's BPU has adopted standards that are above and beyond read more

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