Mainers Up in Arms Over Butchered Limbs
It's good to live among people who take trees seriously.
I once had some neighbors, down in Virginia, who dug up a row of Leyland cypresses in my yard because they feared the trees might, someday, if they grew another thirty feet, block the view from their house on the hill. They didn't even bother to lie about it.
It's hard to imagine this happening in Maine, where people show great respect for both trees and property lines. Just how seriously Mainers take such things was on display the other night when about sixty of my neighbors gathered at the village school to voice their dismay over the wanton butchering of old trees carried out in recent weeks by an out-of-town contractor working for Central Maine Power Company.
This wasn't a crowd of hummus-dipping tree-huggers — Lincolnville (pop. 2,042) isn't that kind of town. Many of the folks in the room were the same people who, as I lamented last week, have Yes on 1 signs in their yards. We may disagree about my right to marry, but on the issue of trees we are refreshingly united.
The facts of the case do not seem to be in dispute. Tree-cutting began in Lincolnville last spring as part of CMP's statewide program to improve reliability of power lines. "We are the most forested state in the country," company PR manager Wes Davis informed the crowd (rather needlessly, I thought). "When we get a severe storm, we have tree-related outages."
No one can argue with that. The problem in Lincolnville, as one resident after another rose to explain, is that trees have been cut without prior notification of the landowner, as required in state law, without consultation with the town tree warden, and seemingly without any understanding of basic arboriculture. On top of that, some residents reported damage to environmentally sensitive areas, ham-fisted chopping of limbs that were previously deemed safe, heavy pruning of old lines where power was shut down a decade ago, and refusal by contractors to stop work when a horrified property owner, arriving home to find cutting in progress, vigorously though vainly protested.
Some of the stories were downright heartbreaking. A man named David Barrows came home from work one day to find thirteen old apple trees completely destroyed. "Try as they might," he said ruefully, "those trees could never have grown all the way up to those power lines."
Novelist and mom Liz Hand drove down to her cottage at Coleman Pond to find all the vegetation removed from around what she described as a sensitive vernal pool — a seasonal wetland that is home to a threatened species of frog.
The local tree steward, a crusty fellow named Will Brown, clicked his way through a slide show of about ninety photographs — some of which elicited gasps and groans from the audience — showing strangely disfigured, de-limbed, decapitated, dangerously one-sided and otherwise damaged specimens. (He edited the show down, he said, from a total of 500 photos in town files.) It was like something out of Dr. Seuss, only decidedly non-whimsical.
To all of this, CMP representatives at the meeting had surprisingly little to say.
"All night long," noted one attendee in a morning-after e-mail, "I was struck by CMP's refusal to admit any corporate culpability or malfeasance, let alone incompetence, in this debacle."
There may be a reason for that. In today's globalized and agglomerated electric power industry, the town of Lincolnville — not to mention a lone citizen and his thirteen apple trees — may just be too tiny, too insignificant, to worry about.
Clicking through the official Central Maine Power site, you come upon a page called "For Investors" that contains this useful data point: "CMP is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Energy East Corporation."
Following the link to Energy East, you discover this: "On September 16, 2008, Energy East became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Iberdrola, S. A., therefore, Energy East’s common stock is no longer publicly traded."
Googling your way to the top of the food chain, you end up here: "Once just a force in Spain, IBERDROLA has established itself as [sic] major global player in the power industry over the past few years. In 2009 it served 21 million customers in Europe and the Americas and it owns hydroelectric, fossil-fueled, nuclear, and renewable power generation facilities with a capacity of more than 43,300 MW."
Kind of gives you perspective, doesn't it? We are a very small leaf on a very big tree. And judging from the mood in the school gym the other night, we're not real happy about it.