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Damaged Trees Require Judgment Calls From LIPA, Town

Proximity to power lines, measure of damage and threat to locals determine a tree's removal.

Damaged Trees Require Judgment Calls From LIPA, Town Damaged Trees Require Judgment Calls From LIPA, Town

Hurricane Sandy brought down trees throughout the Town of Smithtown, some of which remain, over a week later, tangled up in power lines.

For those looking to see who is responsible for having them removed, the duties are split between the town and the Long Island Power Authority, depending on certain variables.

“We’re not allowed to touch them if they’re in the lines. LIPA has their own contractors that take care of that,” said Glenn Jorgensen, superintendent of highways for the town.

Smithtown’s Director of Public Safety John Valentine said when the town removes trees they look to remove the hazardous ones that could potentially cause safety issues first, then they remove the trees that are causing road obstructions.

St. James resident Christine Doherty is one local who ran into confusion when looking to have a tree removed following Sandy. Doherty has a tree on her property that has troubled her for years; a tree that she said according to a town survey belonged to the town, preventing her from removing it from her property. 

Following Sandy, the tree split, but did not fall. Doherty said with the nor’easter on the way Wednesday she feared it was too weak to withstand another storm and would cause catastrophic damage if hit by strong wind.

“It’s not going to be standing after Wednesday,” she said. “It’s going to take out all the lines again and possibly my neighbor’s house.”

While once not permitted to remove the tree, Doherty said following last week's storm, the town gave her permission to do so, but she was unable to find a company available before Wednesday’s nor’easter to do it. The tree – a hollowed-out home to squirrels, owls and ants – split during Sandy.

“During the storm we had a flashlight shining on it and you could see it opening and closing the crack, almost like it was breathing,” she said. 

Although she had permission to have the tree removed, and town workers who inspected it and said it was dangerous, Doherty said the town would not remove it. According to Doherty, the workers said they couldn’t remove the tree because “it was still standing.” 

After speaking with Doherty on Monday, LIPA’s tree removal crews took down branches from the tree that were tangled up in power lines.

The town is fielding calls from locals in fear of potential damage caused by trees, and Valentine said depending on the severity of the call a town highway employee will check out that tree and deem it to be hazardous or not.

Any calls from locals for potentially hazardous trees are being fielded the town’s highway department.

Jorgensen said having two storms so close to each other is causing frustration for town workers – who have been working 11-and-a-half hour shifts, seven days a week – because workers “haven’t had a chance to clean up the first one yet.”

Do you have or have you seen any damaged trees that could pose a threat, or those that are hazards to power lines?

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