Tree Trimming Protest
The saga of tree trimming, civil disobedience and delicate negotiations with a big utility began Thursday afternoon. By afternoon’s end, the saga would consume a protester, the tree trimmers, the town supervisor, the utility, and law enforcement.
But it began simply enough, when local designer Joyce Blum, who lives off of South Mountain Pass on High Ridge Road, urgently advised the PCN&R that trees were being cut down by Central Hudson. She said she was going to stop it anyway she could.
South Mountain pass is a dirt road, originally used as a copper mining road, and is now a heavily trafficked area.
As this reporter arrived, large trucks, including wood chippers and a cherry picker, sat by the side of the road, work was halted and workers milled about.
Will Delanoy a lead worker with the Asplundh Company, which is contracted by Central Hudson to cut trees and overhanging vines from the power lines, was there. He told the PCN&R that Blum was trying to stop the work on the power lines. The tree trimming is intended to improve electric reliability, particularly after last year’s hurricane and snowstorm highlighted the vulnerability of tree branches near utility lines.
He said the utility could in essence take out everything near the lines if it wanted, not just do selective trimming. “Central Hudson could pull an easement and cut more than I would,” he said.
Delanoy and his crew then pointed out where some vines were smoking on the live wires. He noted that in the past, some protesters had even chained themselves to trees.
Meanwhile, just coming up just over the hill was Blum, toting a lawn chair in hand. She was visibly unhappy. Her intention, she said, was to stop the work on the trees and brush surrounding on South Mountain Pass even if it meant blocking the work with her body.
Blum said loudly, “They cut it down and just leave it.” She pointed to trees that had been cut in the past and left at the side of the road, “It is terrible.”
But the group trying to sort out Blum’s protest continued to grow. After some discussion, Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea pulled up, as Blum had called him, too.
Delanoy then told Blum and Shea that the entire area could be cut, if Central Hudson desired. Blum said they couldn’t cut everything to the ground. Delanoy said they had the right, but he wanted to work with her.
Shea interrupted, “So let’s try to use a little common sense and see if we can’t make an accommodation here.”
Delanoy and Shea tried to convince Blum, but she was not having any of it, as she raised her voice “Believe me I have been here for thirty years. I know what you do, you’re supposed to cut the tops off of trees, not cut them to the ground.”
She also said that notification of the cutting had been inadequate, and cited an area that had been already cut.
Delanoy replied “Central Hudson contacted everyone and let them know we would be working on the lines today.” Blum retorted, “They did not contact us, If I had not been working from home today, you would have gotten away with this.”
She went on, “You are clear cutting things to the ground!”
At that point, the law arrived. Central Hudson had called the Putnam County Sheriff’s department over Blum, saying she was interfering with their work. Deputy Sheriff Robert Detlefs assessed the situation and kept all parties calm.
Blum informed him that that Central Hudson was supposed to call the neighbors according to a contract they had signed “many many years ago.” Deputy Sheriff Detlefs informed Blum that South Mountain Pass in not a private road but a town road. And she could not be in the work zone. “In the future you cannot take a lawn chair and sit down; by doing that you are in violation of the law.”
Unfazed, Blum turned to Delanoy and said, “I am livid! I don’t want to live on this road if it looks like this, the reason I moved here is because I got out of a place that looked like this. You don’t want to live on a road that looks like this.”
Shea tried his best to keep the situation calm. He reasoned with Blum, “Joyce, calm down, he is only doing his job; we are trying to make some kind of concession.”
Delanoy stated he was not going to clear cut, but trim around the wires.
The informal contingent in the trees continued to grow. Peter McFarland, a representative for Central Hudson, then joined the roadside frontier group, and informed Blum that he told the workers to stop work and to clean up the site, and that they would be in contact with her at a later date. “The easements are all in place.”
Blum informed him that she and the neighbors would continue to be there in the future to stop work. Blum continued to question McFarland at length. McFarland, remained polite toward her but remained firm and continued to give her the same answer.
And Shea stated to everyone assembled that they would all sit down at a later date and come to a resolution.