"We would like to have more sensitive trimmings to the trees in our neighborhood," said Mercer Street resident Lorraine Gagliardotto Garry. A resident of Mercer Street since 1978, Garry said when she first moved in, the neighborhood was just rooming houses and had very few trees.
"This is a very emotional issue for us," Garry explained. "PSE&G is overreaching its objective."
Richard Dwyer, PSE&G's regional public affairs manager, answered residents' concerns.
Dwyer said the power company had instituted a plan in the Hudson and Bergen county areas for trimming tree branches away from power wires.
"In regards to trimming the trees away from our wires, PSE&G operates on an 8-8-15 standard," said Dwyer.
Dwyer cited rules from the International Society of Aboroculturalists, the main international authority on tree care, stating that there must be eight feet between and below branches near power wires. In addition, a space of 15 feet must be kept for branches extending above power lines.
"This is because during bad weather, snow collects on the braches," Dwyer explained. "If the branches bend from the snow, they can touch the wires and cause a blackout."
A number of residents still objected to the branch cuttings. Mercer Street resident David Alden cited what he described as the "scrubby looking appearance" of trees on Mercer Street cut by PSE&G contractors. Specifically, Alden noted a pin oak tree near his residence near the Public Library.
"The branches are growing away from the wires, but they are being cut away [anyway]," said Alden.
The tree Alden cited has grown in a U-shaped form around the power wires on Mercer, in part from cuttings that Alden believes are overdone.
Alden also stated that PSE&G workers have visited the Mercer Street trees three times in five years. The two most recent trimmings were during this summer and the summer of 2001, he said.
Dwyer said that the tree workers are only operating on a four-year schedule. It was likely, Dwyer added, that the trimming made last summer could have been done in an emergency.
Also during the meeting, Alden mentioned an encounter with a tree worker that involved the use of obscene language by the worker.
According to Alden, he mentioned to the tree trimmer that he was cutting too much away from the branches. Alden alleges the worker used obscene language to him and then proceeded to cut the tree limbs.
"I wasn't going to start a fight," said Alden. "It's hard to argue with a 200-hundred pound man with a chainsaw."
Present at the Tuesday night meeting was Guy Vogt, a supervisor with PSE&G's division of forestry. Vogt, who oversees all tree-related operations for the power company, said that he would look into the incident and take corrective measures.
"PSE&G has the highest standards of public service," said Dwyer about the obscene language incident. "The contractors we employ have to live up to those standards. If they do not, we will take the appropriate actions."
A large part of the problem, according to Dwyer, is with the trees that were planted in the Mercer Street area 20 years ago.
"The trees that were planted, such as the pin oak in front of Mr. Alden's house, tend to grow straight up and into the wires," Dwyer said. "We have to work with what the trees give us and those are the trees that are there."
Dwyer mentioned Tuesday that cutting the trees helps the trees' health, too.
"If you cut the branches at the tip of the branch, you open it up to insects and fungus infection," Dwyer said. "If you cut right near the trunk, the tree is able to defend itself. Also, the branches will grow back stronger."
Dwyer also noted that "approximately 26 percent of all power outages are tree-related. Another cause of outages is animal contact. Branches create a pathway to conductors for the animals."
A number of people suggested the use of rubber tubes to keep the branches away from power wires. Vogt replied that the rubber tubes, which are sometimes used to hold back limbs from wires, are only a temporary measure.
"We cannot put them up everywhere,' Vogt explained.
Many of the people at the Tuesday night meeting remain dissatisfied with the explanation PSE&G provided.
"Our next move will be to speak to people higher up at PSE&G," said Garry. "We will also contact other neighborhood organizations to see how they have dealt with this problem."
In a related matter, Vogt said the forestry section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be sending out informational packets to neighborhood associations in Jersey City and Hoboken on the recent Asian Long Horned Beetle infestation. The infestation, which was first detected three weeks ago on Newport Parkway in the Newport section of Jersey City, has affected 103 trees so far.
In addition, posters describing the beetle and its destructive effects on trees will soon be distributed to area schools by the Department of Agriculture.
To contact PSE&G about tree trimmings, call (201) 330-6629. For information from the US Department of Agriculture, call (908) 527-1402.