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Needham, NSTAR Reps Discuss Tree Removal

Requests outlined at the July 26 'summit' meeting will be submitted in writing to the electric company, with work on hold until NSTAR responds.

Needham officials met with NSTAR representatives Thursday morning to further review the company’s plan to remove trees in the utility right-of-way and to request that workers proceed with caution.

The July 26 "summit” meeting was organized by State Rep. Denise Garlick, a Needham resident who voiced several concerns about NSTAR’s plan to remove trees at a at Needham Town Hall. Board of Selectmen chairman Jerry Wasserman and vice chairman Dan Matthews were present at the latest meeting, as were Town Manager Kate Fitzpatrick and department heads from Park and Recreation, Conservation, Police and Fire, Schools and Public Works. Also attending were representatives from the MBTA, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch’s office, State Senator Richard Ross's office, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and the .

“This meeting was to bring together the stakeholders of the town to set the ground rules for what we hope is going to be a productive partnership with NSTAR,” Garlick said. “What we’re asking for is clear communication, adequate notification and mitigation so that the project will not have as dramatic and negative an impact as we have seen in the communities of , , and parts of Natick.”

NSTAR representatives have agreed not to begin work in Needham until town officials have submitted a formal letter outlining their requests and until NSTAR has had a chance to respond in written form, Garlick said.

Those requests include asking NSTAR to make a “good faith effort” to notify individual property owners about when and where the work will be done, Fitzpatrick said.

“We’re asking that NSTAR go out and mark out the areas, either the trees or the right-of-ways, so the residents and the property owners have a sense of what areas we’re talking about,” Fitzpatrick said.

Ideally, the company would meet individually with every property owner affected by the project, she said.

“We’re very interested in making sure that what is communicated to residents is followed up by the contractor doing the work, and we’ve asked NSTAR how that will happen and asked them to include our tree warden [Ed Olsen] in that process,” Fitzpatrick said.

NSTAR’S vegetation management plan calls for the removal of “incompatible” trees and other plants located within a 100-foot zone underneath the company’s electrical transmission lines. NSTAR manages about 400 miles of high voltage transmission right-of-way, part of which follows the Commuter Rail tracks through Needham and crosses many private properties and backyards.

The company plans to remove any growth with a mature height of more than 3 feet in the “wire zone,” directly around and under the transmission tower, and trees with a mature height of more than 15 feet that are located in the “border zone”—an area on either side of the wire zone within the right-of-way. Among the tree species that are considered incompatible are aspen, beech, birch, hemlock, oak, maple and white pine, which can grow beyond the 15-foot limit.

Fitzpatrick said officials have asked NSTAR to pay particular attention to some of Needham’s more sensitive areas, including around , the Needham Golf Club and the Elmwood Road neighborhood, which is a densely populated area located along the rail corridor.

“The public utility right-of-way runs over a significant part of these lawns or backyards,” Fitzpatrick said of the Elmwood Road area.

NSTAR has not given an exact work date, but representatives told officials on Thursday that the project should begin in Needham “within the month,” Fitzpatrick said.

“We’re asking NSTAR to get back to us in response to these concerns before they start the work,” she said.

Residents were expected to gather Thursday evening at for an informal discussion of their concerns and hopes for the process, Garlick said.

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