Know your tree trimming rights

By Donna Karlson

Property owners should understand what they can do to protect their shrubs and trees when utility companies trim or cut vegetation for line maintenance or construction in the public right-of-way (ROW) that abuts their property. Recent severe storms highlight the need for careful trimming around lines and poles to minimize power outages and ensure safety.

At the same time, homeowners and businesses are concerned by the chance of losing a valuable tree that is close to or within the ROW along their property. Visitors and residents alike value our tree-shaded roadways. No one wants the right-of-way clear cut. How can a property owner protect a valued tree or shrub in or near the ROW yet provide enough clearance to prevent damage to poles and lines?

First, determine where the ROW ends and your property begins. Most property owners, like myself, are surprised to find that a significant part of their front yard, often carefully landscaped, is in the ROW.

Review your deed, survey and any pins or markers to find that boundary. If you haven’t yet obtained a survey, paying for one is advised.

Fortunately, Maine law provides for a collaborative approach between a utility and a property owner about vegetation cutting. A utility may only cut trees and portions of trees that intrude on the ROW. A utility may not cut down trees on your property.

Second, request a personal consultation before any cutting begins. Maine law requires a utility to maintain a customer notice list of everyone who has asked for a “personal consultation” before cutting or trimming trees upon land in which one “has a legal interest.” This protects those with long-term leases as well as those who own land in the ROW. A request to be placed on the list can be made at any time regardless of whether tree-trimming is impending.

Emera Maine can be contacted by phone at 973-2000 or in writing, Attn: Vegetation Management, P.O. Box 932, Bangor, ME 04402-0932. It is advised that you verify being on the list when you become aware of impending trimming or construction projects.

I have spoken with Emera staff who reaffirmed that they will not trim or cut vegetation until they have had this personal consultation with anyone who is on the list.

The law mandates consultation with the owner before removal of any shade or ornamental tree. Most property owners have a fee interest in the land to the center of the road. This provision protects not just the shade and aesthetic value of trees, but also trees that provide us with fruit, nuts, maple sap, etc. This mandated consultation (regardless of whether one is on the list) could result in a partial trim versus a complete removal and/or the planting of a new replacement tree or shrub.

Thirds, find out when your road is scheduled for trimming or construction. This is the most difficult recommendation for the property owner to follow. The best way to know is to place your name on the list described above.

To learn more about how the required notice is given, I called Emera. A notice was sent to our former town manager and public works director a few years ago to cover Emera projects everywhere in Bar Harbor. They indicated that a new notice, specifying tree-trimming on Crooked Road by spring of 2015, was sent to our recently hired town manager, as well as our public works director. No further notice is required from the town.

The rules do allow town officials to hold a public hearing, and if they do so, no trimming may occur until after. This would not affect any needed emergency trimming. I do not recall any public hearing on proposed tree trimming in Bar Harbor in the past several years.

Earlier this year, I asked the town council to hold such a hearing on Emera’s plan to build a transmission line (with attendant tree-trimming) on Crooked Road. To date, none has been held. I believe a hearing on the current plan for trimming needs to be held. Involving citizens at the outset helps reduce problems for all involved.

I urge everyone to inform the town manager and councilors about your concerns. Ask for a public hearing if you have questions. Let your friends and neighbors know and get the word out. Even though the utility is required to publish tree maintenance and cutting notices in two papers, very few of us read the fine print of our papers every day.

If you have concerns about the cutting and removal of trees in the ROW, consider each of the above suggestions. A planned, collaborative approach is one that brings a community together, effects the best results for all involved and preserves the safety, functionality and beauty of our town.

Donna Karlson is a resident of Bar Harbor.

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