Conservation Agent Seeks Explanation For NStar Clear-Cutting By Mashpee River
By: Brian Kehrl
Mashpee Conservation Agent Andrew R. McManus has asked NStar to explain its cutting of a grove of trees directly on the bank of the Mashpee River, an area that Mr. McManus said NStar had previously pledged not to touch.
The scalping last month of the small area on the eastern bank of the river, in which about a dozen sizable trees were felled with chainsaws at the northern end of the Mashpee River Woodlands Conservation Area, was part of the utility company’s regular maintenance of the electricity transmission lines that run across town.
“Several large trees that directly border the Mashpee River at the bottom of the bank were cut down during NStar’s most recent round of cuttings along this particular easement,” Mr. McManus wrote in an e-mail to two NStar officials last week. “Our office was never contacted for any sort of pre-cutting consultation in this sensitive area nor were we given any sort of notice or presentation as to NStar’s cutting methodology in this particular easement. During the first round of cuttings, it was agreed that these trees posed no hazard to the overhead lines and were to be left alone, so I am quite disappointed & shocked in having witnessed the aftermath of the most recent cutting.”
Mr. McManus announced his correspondence with NStar at a meeting of the Mashpee Conservation Commission last Thursday evening. He said he was alerted by NStar that the work was being planned, but he did not receive a response after several attempts to schedule a meeting with a representative of the utility and to find out more about what was planned were unsuccessful.
Michael P. Durand, a spokesman for NStar, said in a telephone interview this week that the utility has been mowing, clearing, and “reclaiming” areas along the main power transmission lines in Falmouth, Mashpee, and Barnstable.
The utility determined the trees to be a hazard to the transmission lines, he said, and special care was taken to prevent impacts to the river by using hand tools like chainsaws and removing the timber with ropes rather than large machines. The company worked with the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program while planning the work, he said.
“The project is accomplishing the goal and the commitment that we have to maintaining reliable electric service on the Cape. These particular lines benefit tens of thousands of customers, and ultimately benefit the entire Cape, because all of our lines are interconnected,” Mr. Durand said.
He said the project in Mashpee primarily involved mowing under the lines, maintaining a 100-foot strip under the lines, only a portion of the 210- to 270-foot easement. The work did include the “reclaiming” of some areas that the utility previously left to grow but decided to clear because of their proximity to the power lines.
The reclamation of forested areas in Falmouth has led to an outcry from abutters to the power lines, some of whom saw trees cut down on their own properties that are included in the right of way.
Due to another outcry of environmental concern, the company is under a moratorium of chemical spraying to clear vegetation along rights of way on Cape Cod.
The decision of which trees to cut down is based on a survey of the areas by a forester, with projections of how much the trees will grow per year over the next few years. “Sometimes we’ll take them down now rather than wait for them to become bigger and cause a greater disturbance,” he said.
Mr. Durand said this project is separate from the more regular maintenance of distribution lines that run alongside roads. The transmission lines that cross the river carry 115,000 volts, compared to about 4,000 volts for distribution lines.
Mr. Durand said the transmission line work in Mashpee started in September and was finished before Christmas and included work on the right of way from the intersection with Old Barnstable Road on the far west side of town all the way across to the intersection with Sampson’s Mill Road and the border with Barnstable.
The lines run across the Quashnet River and the large conservation area south of Route 151, over Route 28 just south of Mashpee Commons, and then up near the Windchime condominium complex, next Trout Pond, and over the Mashpee River.
After crossing Quinaquisset Avenue, the transmission lines run parallel to Route 28 for a short distance, cross Orchard Road and Sampson’s Mill Road, then cut behind Botello Lumber and through Willowbend, after which they cross the Santuit River into Barnstable. They then cross Cotuit, go through Marstons Mills, and run up toward Route 6 in Hyannis.
Mr. Durand said the utility is now working on the same lines into Barnstable.
Mr. Durand said the utility tries to communicate its plans clearly to town officials and is required to give notification of expected work.
“We have arborists that run these programs and are willing and available to speak with the conservation agent about any concerns he may have about any of the work that we did,” Mr. Durand said.
That level of communication, however, did not take place, Mr. McManus said.
Before the utility came through two years ago and flush cut the vegetation on the hill up from the river, Mr. McManus said he was in close communication with the arborist, who abided by Mr. McManus’s concerns about protecting the river from erosion and keeping as much of the vegetation immediately along the bank as possible.
Mr. McManus said he asked that a particular grove of trees, about 30 to 40 feet from the lines and right alongside the river, be left alone. The river sits at the bottom of a 50-foot-high bank that the power line posts are set into. The arborist agreed, Mr. McManus said.
This time around, however, he said he received an e-mail notifying him of the planned work and he asked the company representative to come to a commission meeting to explain the process. The representative put off attending a meeting and eventually stopped returning his correspondence, Mr. McManus said.
A few weeks later, he said he went out to the site and saw the work had been completed.
“This time it was pretty shocking that none of that took place,” Mr. McManus said. “It doesn’t look like this area would have been of any interference whatsoever with the lines.”
As a utility NStar is exempt from certain environmental regulations, including the Wetlands Protection Act, the state law that limits development and alteration of the landscape on areas in and near rivers and other bodies of water.
Mr. McManus said the river bank is of critical environmental importance. The trees provide shade to keep the water cool and protection from avian predators for locally struggling fish species like herring and trout. The trees and marshy area provide wildlife habitat and prevent erosion and runoff from reaching the river, he said.
“I just want to get an answer about why they did this. I want to find out if there was a crew out and no one was supervising. What was the reason they cleared all the way down to the bank?” Mr. McManus said.
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