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Waiver Intended To Help Tree Pruning

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Simsbury Courtesy Jeff Hugabonne

By JANICE PODSADA, The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ State officials say that in the wake of a storm that damaged trees across the state, they won’t enforce a 1919 Connecticut law that bars some tree trimmers from pruning or taking down branches. |

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees the state arborist’s program and licensing, made the announcement Nov. 4 after an inquiry by The Hartford Courant.

While anyone can cut down or remove fallen trees, the Arborist Law specifies that only arborists licensed by Connecticut can prune or take down tree limbs. Penalties for violating the law range from $1,000-$2,500 a day. Unlicensed arborists, tree-cutters and landscapers cannot trim or prune trees.

But the DEEP said that while “the law is still in place, people can make judgments about needing to address a dangerous situation,” said Dennis Schain, an agency spokesman.

The 1919 law was designed to protect trees and property owners from the poor work and harmful practices of inexperienced or unscrupulous tree workers. “It’s intended to make sure that work done on trees doesn’t hurt the tree,” said Bradford Robinson, supervisor of the DEEP’s Pesticide Management Program, which manages the arborist program.

“If there is some kind of immediate danger . a property owner should move forward and have dangerous limbs removed,” Schain said. “It’s best to use a licensed arborist . but given the circumstances, you can get somebody to cut the limbs or do what you need.”

Homeowners will not face fines or penalties if they choose “a non-arborist to deal with tree-related dangers,” Schain said.

That portion of the 92-year-old law had left some homeowners hanging this week.

Bruce Bourgoin, a West Hartford homeowner, said he was astounded to learn earlier this week that the out-of-state tree trimming company he hired could remove the hickory tree that crashed into his home but not a dozen broken limbs still dangling from the trees in his yard.

“They’re 80 feet up and hanging. If they fall from that height they’ll kill you,” Bourgoin said recently.

When Bourgoin couldn’t find a local tree trimmer, he turned to Dustin Meyers, owner of Timber Ridge Tree Service, which is based in Michigan. “Everyone I called here was busy,” Bourgoin said.

Meyers was in the state for the Tree Care Industry Association’s annual convention this week at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, which has drawn 2,000 tree experts from around the country.

But when Meyers arrived in Hartford and saw the storm’s devastation, he brought his crew and equipment, including a 144-foot crane, to Connecticut.

Meyers called the state’s arborist program for clarification of the law after a customer told him about the licensing requirement. He was told by state officials that tree trimmers could not remove dangling or broken branches.

“I can cut the tree down, but I can’t take these branches off,” a frustrated Meyers said.

Meyers and his crew of nine tree trimmers set up a 144-foot crane and a wood chipper at a house in Simsbury. A 110-foot white oak had crashed into the back of the house, piercing the roof and blowing out several windows. Two trees in the home’s front yard had dangling branches that looked as if they could fall at any moment.

“It’s like this at every job,” Meyers said, as he kept an eye on one of his workers, who was wrapping a sling around a branch. For safety’s sake, the giant white oak had to be removed in three or four pieces. The first branch, which Meyers estimated weighed about 1,200 pounds, was sliced off with a chain saw and lifted clear of the house with the 144-foot crane.

“I’ve got 50 more of these to do,” he said.

Meyers said he expects it will take several months for tree-trimmers to deal with all the fallen, broken and damaged trees in the state. “There’s enough work for me and my crew until Christmas.”
When Meyers learned that state officials had “relaxed” the rules, he was relieved.

“If the state hadn’t changed that, I would have gone up to Massachusetts. I didn’t want to face fines here,” he said. “Now I’m going to stay here and keep working.”

Meyers said his company has been receiving 200 calls a day from beleaguered Connecticut homeowners.

Bourgoin was pleased.”That’s good news. Those branches in my yard are two to five inches in diameters. If they break off you would be dead. They’ve got to come down.”

Schain said the DEEP is trying to strike a balance between protecting property owners from fly-by-night and unskilled operators and the property owner’s need to rid their homes and yards of dangerous trees and branches.

“Common sense must persist,” Schain said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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