CL&P tackles ‘hazard tree’ in Thompson

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Thompson - posted Tue., Aug. 2, 2011
(L-r) Rich Babula, Phil Michaud, Jesse Dessert, Rich Vernon and Chris Evans pull a section of the tree down. Photos by D. Coffey.
(L-r) Rich Babula, Phil Michaud, Jesse Dessert, Rich Vernon and Chris Evans pull a section of the tree down. Photos by D. Coffey.

Jesse Dessert had his work cut out for him. The crew leader from Lewis Tree Service was assigned the tricky task of removing a dying ash tree positioned in a triangle formed by a telephone pole, guide wires and service wires to a house in Thompson.

“I've cut bigger trees,” he said, “but this is the most technical.”

Dessert, groundsman Paul Tavernier and supervisor Chris Evans discussed their strategy before setting up a bucket truck and mulcher. With 4,800 kilo-volts surging through the overhead distribution wires, two cut-offs heading up Buck Hill Road, and the configuration of poles and surrounding trees, the crew had a challenging dilemma.

Weeks earlier, the crew had performed regularly-scheduled trimming work on the CL&P electrical lines in the town. CL&P arborist Steve Childs inspected the route after the trimming was completed. He identified the ash as a “hazard tree,” one needing to be taken down by crews certified to deal with energized wires.

According to Evans, CL&P had identified other hazard trees in the Thompson area and prioritized their removal. Trees account for almost 25 percent of all service interruptions and 90 percent of interruptions during heavy storms. With a service area of more than 4,400 square miles and 1.2 million customers, CL&P relies on tree crews to provide line clearance work year round. Hazard trees are special trees, and the ash on Quaddick Town Farm Road required kid glove treatment. The bark at the base was peeling off and the crew would look for evidence of Asian longhorn beetles.

“There are bounties out,” Evans said.

Dessert climbed into the bucket and worked up the height of the tree, clearing limbs as he went. When he was finished with the limbs, he started cutting chunks off the tree in 4-foot sections, working his way back down. The bucket was raised its full 75-foot extension. Armed with a 7-foot hydraulic saw, Dessert cut piece-by-piece, directing the falling wood with a flick of his saw. The saw is designed to certain specifications to ensure he will not be electrocuted.

Tavernier fed the chipper continually. Dessert moved carefully down the tree. Eventually, it became clear that they would need help from another crew.

The next day, Dessert and Tavernier were joined by climbers Rich Vernon and Rob Lorange. Vernon donned a climbing saddle, lanyards and gaffes. The metal spikes helped him climb the trunk of the tree. The lanyard kept him tethered to it. A bucket truck couldn't deliver him where he needed to go.

According to information from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more people are killed while cutting trees than during any other logging activity. Vernon has worked with trees since the 1970s. As a climber, he is used to working far from roads and without the benefit of a bucket truck. It was his job to cut notches in the tree, attach ropes for a ground crew to pull on, and then initiate cuts that would fell the tree in portions.

“The cut has to be dead on towards the notch,” Vernon said. “It has to be straight and even. You can't banana cut it. Then you use the fibers as a hinge to control where you want the tree to fall. The fibers will hold to a point and then rip. You want that control when you're cutting. You don't want the portion of tree above the cut to pivot. You want to maximize your accuracy.”

The tree rot complicated matters. It's not as easy to fell a tree when there is significant base rot. But when Vernon made the cut, the chunk of tree fell neatly and exactly where he had planned, leaving a deep trench in the ground.

Thankfully, there were no signs of Asian longhorn beetle infestation in the damaged tree.

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