If a tree falls in the forest, maybe no one will hear it. But when hundreds come down in greater Boston, people notice.
People like Mark McDonough, who spends hours a day keeping his mother’s Needham backyard looking like the Vermont countryside, notice. He fears it could soon become a desolate wasteland because the property abuts one of NStar’s high-voltage transmission lines and the company wants to clear away any trees that could fall on it.
“It means we would have no trees from basically from where I’m standing through to the neighbor’s house on the other side of the railroad,” says McDonough. “So not a tree on the slope, not a tree on the other slope, not a tree in their backyard for 100 feet wide all the way to Ashland.”
In the past, NStar would periodically trim, keeping the trees pruned and the lines clear. But in 2010, NStar changed its policy from pruning to clearing. McDonough said the policy change is about saving the company money, but at his expense. A real estate agent by trade, he said the clearing will slash the property’s value by 16 percent. Then, there’s the noise: the property sits close to the commuter rail.
A train whizzes by, the noise partially muted by the dense trees lining the divide between land and track.
“So imagine that without any trees — the diesel fumes, the noise, the sight of it,” says McDonough.
It’s a problem. But McDonough’s bigger concern is a stately magnolia tree rooted center stage in the yard. He and his seven siblings planted it for their mom as a Mother’s Day present in 1970.
“This is the only thing she’s really attached to,” he says. “So I need to move it out of the way. Well, that’s thousands of dollars to remove a tree which clearly could not impact the power lines.”
NStar officials would not comment on this story, but in a statement, spokesman Mike Durand said:
“Trees are the number one cause of power outages and every day our arborists must balance the aesthetic value of trees with our commitment to providing reliable electrical service.”
Durand points to incidences like Monday’s widespread power outage in Connecticut, where thousands of people and businesses lost electricity after a tree fell on a transmission line.
“We have an obligation and a duty to do everything we can to prevent that from happening here,” says Durand.
But the one thing McDonough doesn’t want is to end up like some residents in Framingham, Wayland and Sudbury, where NStar came in and clear cut up to a 100-foot swath around the high-tension wires.
In Framingham, 13 tree stumps now dot Rebecca Perricone’s backyard. She says NStar came in May and within 15 minutes her lush backyard was barren.
“I actually wept when they cut them down, so quickly — that was the shock — how quickly it went down,” says Perricone. “They had this huge harvester that would just grab the tree, saw it and then put it in the field.”
After much negotiating, she says NStar agreed to partially clean up the mess.
“They are coming back to stump grind and to plant low-growing trees,” she says.
As for Mark McDonough, he says he understands NStar’s need to protect its power lines, but doesn’t think clear-cutting is the answer.
“All we’re asking for NStar to do is to come in, cut the trees that are most dangerous, do this over time, work with their neighbors. And they should have learned a huge lesson in Sudbury or Wayland or Framingham.”
Whether or not they apply those lessons in Needham is left to be seen.