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Con Ed May Not Have Right to Cut Our Trees

(The editors regret that part of this letter was missing from an earlier posting.)

Now that Con Ed has trashed the trees of Scarsdale in the name of avoiding expensive storm damage to their lines, the word is out that their sights are set on Larchmont. Village Hall doesn’t know how to stop them from decimating this “Tree City” because they haven’t researched who owns the trees, but my family had a different experience because we had the facts about our trees. After what Larchmont did to IKEA, if Larchmont homeowners had accurate information, Con Ed wouldn’t stand a chance.

We discovered in Scarsdale that Village Hall believed that Scarsdale owns title to the land under the roads (they don’t), the utility poles, (they don’t) and the street trees (they don’t own them either). In most cases, the owner of the abutting lot owns fee title to the center of the road and therefore, owns the “street trees.” Verizon owns the utility poles and Con Ed has a right to put their lines on them if they have easements recorded in the county clerk’s office that refer to the property impacted. But it doesn’t matter whether the town understands the situation . What does matter is that Con Ed understands – that’s why they acquired their easements in the first place.

To protect the trees of Larchmont, you could do what my family did in Scarsdale when we were faced with this problem. First, look at the title policy for your property. If your title has an easement that gives the utilities permission to cut your trees, it should be listed there. The typical easement language used by the utilities for the last 100 years provides that they can cut trees 18 inches around the wires to maintain their lines. That’s it. Just 18 inches. (That’s the easement for our neighborhood in Scarsdale. My bet is that Larchmont is no different.) If the utility wants to cut more than the 18 inches the easement allows, we believe they need a court order. They might be able to get that by Eminent Domain because of the severity of recent storms. But the affected homeowner should have an opportunity to oppose their petition and Con Ed would have to spend a substantial amount of money on litigation.

Furthermore, to take private property (i.e. our beautiful trees) for the “public good” Con Ed should have to compensate the property owners for the full value of the trees they destroy or maim. If Con Ed’s purpose in this endeavor is to prevent expensive damage to their lines, but the alternative costs even more, maybe they will just go away and leave our trees alone. Or stick to the 18 inches they are allowed. But we didn’t just assume that they had a right to take down our trees because they said so. We learned the facts. And, remember, IKEA was kicked out on the facts.

Okay, ladies and gentlemen. Start your engines.

Janet Scully
Larchmont, NY

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