Viewpoint: Long Island Needs Tree Removal Along The Power Grid Before The Next Hurricane Gloria - 27 East

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Viewpoint: Long Island Needs Tree Removal Along The Power Grid Before The Next Hurricane Gloria

Thomas R. Muller on Jul 20, 2021

The main cause of future massive electric service storm outages on Long Island will be the tens of thousands of overgrown trees that exist in the right of ways of the overhead electric distribution grid (and each property owner’s electric service drop), when the next typical Atlantic hurricane crosses Long Island.

The last hurricane eye that hit and crossed our island was in 1985, Hurricane Gloria, fully 36 years ago. Long Island will always be the bull’s-eye target for Atlantic hurricane landfalls as they head northward, up “Hurricane Alley,” typically at 20-mph forward speed and with an average of 100-mph sustained circular winds around the center.

Every tropical “brushing” of Long Island since 1985 has been less than one-eighth the power of Gloria, yet over a third of a billion dollars was spent to clean up massive, uprooted, towering trees from 60-mph gusts that spot-hit isolated locations (with under 20 seconds of gust duration) during Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020. We can call this Exhibit 1 of rock-solid factual evidence.

Our electric utility grid and service has become a critical lifeline for our coastal Long Island society, right up there with the roadways, water/food/fuel sources, and internet/phone services. The stage is now fully set for an unimaginable catastrophic disaster that will take place under the current paradigm of nonstewardship of trees that has evolved during the last 50-plus years.

This huge problem and proposed correction requirement is nondebatable, nonpartisan and everyone’s fault — New York State, all Long Island counties, towns, and villages, and, most of all, Long Island property owners.

For decades, we have all hugged the invasive ROW trees, most of which were never planted by humans, and now many tens of thousands of them are towering 20-plus feet directly over and next to the high-voltage electric cables and poles on thousands of miles of mainly residential roadways, but also on state, county, town, village, and private roadways as well.

During the post-Gloria 36 years, we have added many tens of thousands of new homes and buildings, added well-intentioned “municipal clearing limits” (which have greatly added to this hazard), and fertilized and watered our lawns, which have allowed these happy trees to grow nearly a foot higher and wider every year.

These practices have enabled the trees to soar skyward without growing wind-resistant root systems along the way. “Gloria II” will flop them over like dominoes and flatten thousands of our grid poles, including many new FEMA ones.

It is 100 percent preventable. A tree-free electric utility grid can withstand sustained 125-mph winds for hours.

Time is up. Long Island is statistically 10 years overdue for a typical hurricane landfall. This current electric utility grid tree condition has never existed on Long Island before.

The choice is clear and absolute: We either remove these trees to have a storm-strong hurricane survivable grid, or we face being without electric power for months, and at a cost of billions of dollars, when “Gloria II” makes its guaranteed appearance.

Together, we need to remove every tree that is within a suggested New York State “30/30” law: mandatory removal of trees that are based within 30 feet of the baseline of electric distribution lines and service drops, while also a minimum of 30 feet tall.

We need to do this well before “Gloria II” makes landfall across central Long Island. Failing to establish this new ROW tree stewardship paradigm, before the next Long Island hurricane, will result in some of our most beautiful hamlets being without power for six months or much longer (threatening to bankrupt most residents).

The only solution for preventing this catastrophe is to carefully draft and pass a “Long Island Electric Utility Grid Infrastructure Protection Act,” which is much simpler to detail than was required to draft and pass the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Protection Act of 1993. With the proposed 30/30 law, all of the listed “fault parties” can immediately begin the process of removing the existing thousands of their ROW tree violations without argument or resistance.

Tall trees on Long Island belong in woods, in large parks and elsewhere on properties that do not threaten our grid during a hurricane. This proposal is an uplifting answer, since nearly every citizen would choose having reliable electric service during a hurricane as opposed to the months of outage and the thousands of dollars required to excavate their ripped-out monster stumps after “Gloria II” strikes.

Having the overgrown “30/30” ROW trees removed ahead of the next hurricane landfall, then grinding the stumps to at least 10 inches deep, discarding the grinding shreds, backfilling the 10-inch-deep disc-shaped holes with compacted topsoil, and grassing them, will cost the listed “fault parties” less than 1/30th of the cost of the recovery cleanup that will result if these trees are blown over.

See for yourself as you drive on our Long Island streets today. Notice how many trees will hit the wires when blown over. You will be amazed.

Just imagine the new quality of our Long Island lives with no fear or worry about loss of electric service during future hurricanes or other wind events.

Future generations will thank us.

Tom Muller, a resident of Manorville, is a semi-retired engineer, owner of Muller’s Tree Farm, and a member of multiple advisory committees.

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