A balanced approach for Connecticut is essential to both ensure communities have access to the many benefits provided by trees, AND ensure that electrical power is uninterrupted to the greatest extent possible. There are many resources provided here for citizens interested in both trees and power for Connecticut’s present and future (hopefully you).

We offer special thanks to Mary-Michelle “Mikey” Hirschoff and the Garden Club of New Haven (GCNH) who compiled much of the information found below over the past decade or so. From the moment they got involved, Mikey and GCNH have been dedicated to advocate with CFPA and others for balanced policy solutions for Connecticut. On behalf of both trees and power, we all owe them a hefty debt of gratitude.

GCNH Positions on Trees & Power

  1. The Garden Club of New Haven supports a balanced approach to securing electric power reliability by removing hazardous trees and branches that pose a risk to the electric utility infrastructure and retaining healthy non-hazardous tall and tall-growing trees.  When  trees must be removed, the stumps should be ground or removed and the trees should be replaced with “right tree/right place” trees.
  2. The Garden Club of New Haven supports data collection prior to and after major storms to determine the extent to which apparently healthy trees cause power outages, what caused each such tree to fail, how long the power outages caused lasted, and how the failure could have been predicted prior to the storm.
  3. The Garden Club of New Haven supports undergrounding of distribution wires where feasible as a long term solution, for which planning should begin.

Benefits and Care of Street Trees

In addition to the resources provided below, you can visit the General Urban Forestry Information webpages developed by the CT DEEP Forestry Division.

Benefits of Trees

Street/roadside trees help mitigate climate change, increase climate change resilience, and provide other benefits such as:
carbon capture
reduction in heat island effects
reduction in energy costs
reduction in air pollution
reduction in storm water runoff
reduction in flooding
reduction in erosion
noise abatement
higher property values (aesthetics)
higher retail business income (aesthetics)
habitat for birds and animals
protection of street pavement
traffic calming (reduction in traffic speed)
safer communities
attractive community character (aesthetics)
improved mental and physical health
Resources on the Benefits of Trees
Calculating the Monetary Value of Street Trees
To the extent that all of the benefits of trees cannot be easily and accurately monetized, decisions about street trees should  not be based solely on calculations of monetary value.  Nevertheless, the calculations are useful.

Selection of Trees

Within the UPZ (Utility Protection Zone)  
  • Any new tree to be planted in the UPZ should be compatible with the utility infrastructure, known as a “right tree/ right place” tree.  The UPZ is a defined rectangular space that is bounded by a horizontal line 8 feet out from the outermost wire or conductor on either side of the distribution system, from ground to sky.  Care should also be taken not to plant a tree on private property that could encroach into the UPZ in a way that would require pruning.
  • A chart included in the State Vegetation Management Report lists trees and shrubs that are compatible with the utility infrastructure.  Existing tall mature trees can, however, remain if they can be pruned in accordance with professional pruning standards to be compatible with the utility infrastructure.
Within the Opposite Public Right-of-way 
Recognizing that tree wardens and the DOT have care and control over trees and shrubs in their public rights-of-way pursuant to Section 23-59, C.G.S., and Section 13a-140, C.G.S., and may impose restrictions now or in the future, there are no limitations under Section 16-234, C.G.S., on planting trees that will grow tall as they mature, and which therefore provide far more benefits to private property owners and municipalities.
On Private Land  
Although one may want to check municipal ordinances and guidelines, in general there are no state limitations on what trees can be planted or removed on private property by property owners.
Related Information on Tree Selection, Planting and Maintenance
  • For general information on selection, planting and care of trees, including trees near electric distribution wires, see CT Tree Planting and Maintenance, by the Urban Forestry Division of the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).
  • Also, the New Haven Urban Resource Initiative: STREET TREE CHARACTERISTIC CHART is an excellent guide to what trees are appropriate for planting along streets, especially in New Haven, and can be used elsewhere based on the detailed information provided about each tree.  The chart indicates which trees may be planted under electric distribution wires.

Disposal and Use of Removed Trees

Tree Ordinances and Commissions

 The process of adopting a tree ordinance or tree commission will vary from municipality to municipality.  There are 169 towns in Connecticut.  Cities and towns may be co-terminous or a city may be within only part of a town.  In addition, there are boroughs and other municipal subdivisions.  Some towns are governed solely by the Connecticut general statutes, but other municipalities and municipal subdivisions are governed by charters.  Thus, any of the examples of tree ordinances or commissions provided below may need to be modified in order to comply with the requirements of applicable charters. Adopting a tree ordinance can support tree warden decisions that are protective of the municipal tree canopy.

Utility Tree Pruning and Removal

Protect Street/Roadside Trees - Your Property

NOTE:  After reading the following, for important details consult
Flow Chart on Legal Requirements

Tree wardens should post all trees, including hazardous trees, scheduled for removal or substantial pruning, and must hold a public hearing on such plans if there is an objection from any person.  Any person may appeal a decision by the tree warden to PURA following such a hearing. The tree warden has 3 days to decide and an appeal from the decision must be filed within ten calendar days of the decision.  This is a different appeal process than that described in below. 

  1. Photograph trees and shrubs from all sides and angles before cutting begins and look for direct contact between electric distribution wires and your street trees!  Take photos of your street trees to have a dated record of their condition. Make note of your position and angle, and, if pruning occurs, take a photo from the same position and angle to document any violation of the law.  This is especially important because the normal notice processes, as set forth below, are not used if there is direct contact between electric distribution wires (the highest wires) and your street trees.  If there is, you may want to inform your electric utility of the contact, and then make sure that it prunes only to remove that contact by being present when pruning take place.  Get their commitment, in writing if possible, that they will not prune without your presence. File a complaint with UI or Eversource, and with your tree warden and chief elected official (mayor, first selectman)  In the event that your trees are pruned or removed without a permit, without notice and an opportunity to object or request a modification, or contrary to an agreement reached not to remove a tree or to prune it in a particular way, complain to the utility and if you are not satisfied with the response, file a complaint with PURA.
  2. Read notices from CL&P or UI and comply with the deadlines for objection or a request for modification.  You should contact the utility to find out about the utility’s plans, but do not miss a deadline as you seek information or try to reach an agreement informally.  The notice should provide the address of the tree warden or DOT to whom you must send a written objection or request for modification.
  3. Exercise your rights when you receive a notice (1) to object or request a modification within ten (10) business days of receiving the notice for proposed pruning or removal within the public right-of-way; and (2) to refuse consent for removal or pruning of trees solely on your private landif you disagree with the utility’s planned action.  Except for hazardous trees, the utility cannot prune or remove a tree on private property without the affirmative written consent of the property owner. Do not allow any pruning or removal for which the utility does not have a permit from the municipal tree warden or DOT.
  • Notice of utility pruning and removal.  If the notice is delivered to you in person by a utility work planner, ask for a detailed explanation of the work to be done while looking at the tree or shrub and ask for that explanation in writing.  If there is no in person delivery, you can phone or e-mail the utility to ask about the proposed work, but be careful not to miss a deadline while waiting for a response.  The notice may be mailed to you in an envelope or placed on your door in a “door hanger.”  By law, it can be delivered by e-mail or text, but, for now, the utilities are not using that method.  NOTE:  PURA is also requiring utilities to provide notice by e-mail, fax, personal contact, or, it those fail, certified mail with return receipt prior to beginning pruning or removal.  It is currently unclear when such notice is to take place.  Records of the contact are to be retained for 24 months.  In addition,  UI has been sending a letter notifying everyone along a street/road where it will be pruning or removing trees and shrubs, before it provides the legally required notice.  It is an alert that one should be looking for a notice and inquiring if one isn’t received.
  • Read the notice immediately and be sure to meet the deadlines set forth in the notice.  You must receive it fifteen (15) business days prior to commencement of utility pruning or removal.  Consider sending your written objection or request for modification by certified mail, return receipt requested, even if you use the option of e-mailing your objection or request for modification to the utility. The notice should provide the address of the tree warden or DOT to which you must mail the objection or request for modification. If you are going to be away on vacation, have someone alert you to a notice from your utility and also check your house for a “door hanger” notice.  It is possible that notice will not be mailed.
  • If the tree warden decides in favor of the utility with regard to your objection or modification, you have a right to appeal to PURA within 10 business days of the decision, which includes the option of having a mediation within thirty days.  If the mediation fails to reach a resolution, you may then have a hearing before PURA within another thirty days, or you can skip mediation and go directly to a hearing before PURA within sixty days. The utility also can appeal a decision in your favor. The burden is on the utility to prove that its proposed pruning and/or removal is necessary for utility reliability.  
  • State law prohibits the utility from billing a person who refused to give consent for removal of a tree on private land or objected to pruning or removal of a tree within the public right-of-way if the tree falls and the utility infrastructure is damaged.

Let your friends and neighbors know about their rights.

Insist that any agreement on a modification to the planned work be in writing in sufficient detail and preferably with an illustration of the agreed upon work.  Take photos before the work begins!

You may request information about whether the tree or shrub is in the public right-of-way or on your private land.  If it is on your private land, the utility may not remove or prune the tree or shrub without your affirmative consent, with one exception for hazardous trees.

The notice should tell you that you have a right to consult with the tree warden (municipal roads) or the Department of Transportation (DOT) representative (state highways).  The tree warden will know who the DOT representative is.  The address of the tree warden must be on the notice. If you don’t know who your tree warden is, you can call your town or city hall to find out, or go here (not sure how up-to-date this information is): DEEP Interactive Map with Contact Information for Your Town or City’s Tree Warden

Do not allow the utility to prune or remove a tree or shrub if the utility does not have a permit to do so from the tree warden (municipal roads) or DOT (state highways).  The utility may contact you before or after obtaining a permit.  You should ask to see the permit.  If it does not specify the work to be done, contact the tree warden or DOT representative. 

Take photos and file a complaint to PURA if a utility has pruned or removed a tree or shrub:

  • without a tree warden or DOT permit (required except where a tree is in direct contact with a wire or causing a fire);
  • without notice that provides the required information;
  • despite an objection or request for modification, before a requested consultation has taken place, or when an appeal from a tree warden or DOT decision is pending;
  • without consent, for a tree on private land (including municipal land) outside the public right-of-way; or
  • contrary to its agreement with you

IF any of the above happens  . . .
File a complaint with PURA, and seek appropriate remedies. BUT — Remember that professional pruning that preserves the health and structure of a tree or shrub is permitted if necessary for utility reliability, and that hazardous trees and branches can be removed with only a tree warden or DOT permit. In the case of direct tree-wire contact and burning, the utility or DOT does not need a permit but should conduct the minimum pruning necessary. 

Protect Street/Roadside Trees - Your Community Actions

SEE Diagram of Local Action for schematic illustration of public officials and community groups
1.  Communicate with and/or arrange a meeting with your municipal tree warden and ask him or her to ensure that no healthy non-hazardous trees or shrubs are removed and that they are pruned in accordance with professional pruning standards to preserve their health and structural integrity.  All pruning and removal must be necessary for utility service reliability.   (Work with a group or form group to do so, if possible.  See 3 below.)  A permit is required from a tree warden or DOT before any pruning or removal takes place.  The tree warden has the power to refuse a permit to prune or remove any tree within the public right-of-way, to limit the pruning, and place conditions on the pruning and removal, subject to appeal by the utility to the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).  The application for the permit and the permit issued for pruning and removal should be in writing and should specify the work to be done.  (DOT permits are required on state highways, and it is uncertain whether local officials or residents can influence the DOT permit process.)
Find your tree warden: Call your city or town hall or go to this website: 
Find Tree Wardens in Every CT City, Town or Borough

  • Ensure that the tree warden posts all trees, including hazardous trees, scheduled for removal or substantial pruning, and holds a public meeting on such plans.  Any person may appeal a decision by the tree warden to PURA following such a hearing. The tree warden has 3 days to decide and an appeal from the decision must be filed within ten calendar days of the decision.  This is a different appeal process than that described in 4. below. 
  • Hazardous Trees: If a tree warden or DOT determines that a tree or branch in the public right-of-way is hazardous (“dead, extensively decayed or structurally weak”), the utility is not required to provide notice to a property owner.  Before removing a hazardous tree or branch outside of the public right-of-way, the utility must make a reasonable attempt to notify the property owner of its plans three days in advance. 
  •  State highways:  The tree warden knows who should be contacted at the Department of Transportation regarding trees on state highways, and can help persuade the DOT to protect trees and shrubs in the DOT right-of-way.  

2.  Communicate with and/or arrange a meeting with your chief elected official (mayor, first selectman, borough warden), and other elected and appointed officials in your municipality to express your positions, individually, as part of a group or as a coalition of groups, on utility tree pruning and removal plans.  (See Diagram for Local Action.)  Request that the chief elected official ask for a public meeting with the utility regarding its plans. If there is a public meeting, make sure it is well attended by concerned citizens and groups. 

3.  Let your neighbors and friends know about planned or possible tree pruning and removal by a utility, and about their right to object or request a modification (see above).  Inform neighborhood groups and existing community organizations, or form new groups, to explore the issues and decide on a course of action.  Consider using a brochure and/or flyer such as those prepared by the Greenwich Tree Conservancy or Garden Club of New Haven.

4.  Arrange meetings with the utility to learn about their plans and ask them questions.  

5.  Even if pruning and removal is not yet scheduled, if there are areas of particular concern, TAKE PHOTOS NOW of the roadside/street trees as evidence  in the event that your trees are pruned or removed without a permit, without notice and an opportunity to object,  or contrary to an agreement reached not to remove a tree or to prune it in a particular way.  (Such an agreement should be in writing.)

6. Work to draft and adopt an ordinance to govern utility tree pruning and removal and/or the establishment of tree commissions.   An ordinance can be based on tree warden regulations and also can govern planting, pruning and removal of trees by the municipality, apart from utility tree pruning and removal.  Some towns and cities also have tree commissions. 

CT Law on Utility Vegetation Management

Vegetation Management by electric distribution companies (EDCs) is governed by ​​Section 16-234, C.G.S.  The EDCs must also comply with Section 23-65,C.G.S., especially subsection (f), which governs tree warden permits for pruning and removal of trees and shrubs within the public right-of-way.  The flow chart and summary below remain valid despite minor amendments to the statute since they were drafted.  Decisions by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) interpret and apply the law pertaining to EDCs.  Section 16-32g, C.G.S. requires each EDC to file, for PURA’s review and approval, a line maintenance plan for distribution and transmission lines and related equipment, which includes vegetation management.  PURA now requires such a plan to be submitted each year, and the plans include reports on vegetation maintenance metrics in the prior year.   Unauthorized pruning and removal of trees and shrubs may be remedied by damages and penalties provided under Section 23-65, C.G.S. and other laws.  

Summary of CT Law on Utility Vegetation Management, revised March 2021

Flow Chart of Legal Requirements for Utility Vegetation Management
NOTE:  Although this chart was prepared in 2014, it remains a useful guide to the legal process.

For all laws governing trees in Connecticut,  see the following summaries provided by the Forestry Division of the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP): CT Laws and Regulations Regarding Trees (selected key laws) and Connecticut Tree Laws: A Compilation of Pertinent Statutes and Regulations (for Arborists, Foresters, Tree Wardens, and others involved with Connecticut’s trees).

Standards for Utility Vegetation Management

2022 CT Utility Line Clearance Standards
ALERT:  EVERSOURCE is beginning implementation of “resiliency projects” in 2022 for extensive tree removal in at least 12 towns: Chester, Clinton, Guilford, Mansfield, Middletown, Naugatuck, Newtown, Redding, Sharon, West Hartford, Windham and Woodstock. It proposes to remove any tree, within the public right-of-way or on private property that could fall on its overhead pole and wire distribution system.  This is a major deviation from its prior line maintenance standards, and was not included in the line maintenance plans for 2022 that it must submit for review by PURA.  Therefore, PURA has not reviewed it.  Click to read GCNH’s statement to PURA requesting, for numerous reasons,  that the projects be halted pending thorough review by PURA.

DISTRIBUTION WIRES:  Both Eversource and United Illuminating prefer to use Enhanced Tree Trimming (“ETT”) to achieve clearances between wires and trees for distribution wires within the UPZ.  ETT applies fixed guidelines for pruning.  Such pruning can lead to removal of healthy, structurally sound trees that would become hazardous.  However, tree wardens have authority under existing law to ensure that pruning preserves the health and structural integrity of the trees and to prevent unnecessary removals, subject to appeal to PURA.

TRANSMISSION WIRES:  These are high voltage wires. Most are in corridors owned directly by the utility or by an easement agreement with a private property owner and are therefore not within a public right-of-way and subject to tree warden authority and Section 16-234 notice and objection provisions.  About 10% of Eversource’s transmission lines are on municipal, state and Federal land and, if on municipal land, under the care and control of tree wardens and Section 16-234.   It is unclear what percentage are on municipal public land, including municipal public rights-of-way.  Wherever located, the vegetation management done under and around transmission lines must comply with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulation, FAC-003, and achieve required minimum clearances.  The clearances for varying voltages are set forth at pp. 16-18 of FAC-003.  FERC does not mandate how vegetation management is conducted by the utility to achieve the required minimum clearances, and recognizes that it is subject to state and local law, but failure to achieve the clearances could result in a maximum fine on the utility of up to $1 million per day.  See FERC Enforcement Reliability. For more information, see FERC Tree Trimming and Vegetation Management and FERC Frequently Asked Questions (about vegetation management).

2022 Line Maintenance Plans for Distribution and Transmission Lines
Clink these links to see the 2022 line maintenance plans for both Eversource and United Illuminating.  They have been transferred to Docket No. 17-12-03RE08 for PURA review.  SEE ALERT ABOVE.
2021 Line Maintenance Plans for Distribution and Transmission Lines
Information on Pruning — Alternatives to ETT for Distribution Wires:

Damages and Penalties for Unauthorized Tree Pruning or Removal

The following is provided for information purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice regarding particular facts and circumstances, consult an attorney.

The consequences of unauthorized tree or shrub removal or pruning depend on whether the tree or shrub is on purely private land or in the public right-of-way.  Such pruning or removal within the public right-of-way or on public grounds can be authorized by permit from the tree warden, Department of Transportation or other legitimate authority, with appeal from the decision to PURA when a utility has asked for the permit or to the Superior Court in all other cases.  (For detailed information, including an exception to the permit requirement for the minimum pruning (possibly removal) of a tree necessary to eliminate contact with an electrical wire or burning, see Summary of the Law, and Section 23-59, C.G.S.Section 23-65(f), C.G.S., and Section 16-234, C.G.S.)  Note that, if the branches or roots of a tree are within the public right-of-way or public grounds, such trees are considered to be subject to the “care and control” of the tree warden or other appropriate authority.  The cited statutes do not give the tree warden, DOT and others authority over trees and shrubs solely on private land.

Prior to seeking court action for a claim of unauthorized pruning or removal by a utility, you may want to file a complaint with the Consumer Services Unit of PURA.  PURA asks that you contact the utility first and give it a chance to resolve the problem, filing a complaint only if you cannot get a satisfactory response from the utility.  Only allow a reasonable amount of time for a response.  Undue delay will work against you.

Trees or Shrubs in the Public Right-of-Way:

Pursuant to Section 23-65(b), C.G.S.,  any person, firm or corporation, including a utility, that prunes, removes, injures or defaces a tree or shrub within the public right-of-way or public grounds without the written permit of the tree warden or written permit of other authorities having jurisdiction, such as the Department of Transportation (DOT) , is subject to the following:

In an action brought by the affected property owner or the authority with jurisdiction, e.g. the tree warden or DOT,

(1)  the person, firm or corporation may be ordered to restore the land to its prior condition, or

(2)  the court “shall award” to the landowner the costs of “restoration, reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, and such injunctive or equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.”

(3)  the court, in addition, “may award” damages of up to five times the restoration costs or statutory damages of up to five thousand dollars.  In determining this additional award, the court is to consider the willfulness of the violation, the extent of damage, the appraised value of the shrub, ornamental or shade tree, the monetary gain of the violator and other relevant factors.

Section 23-65(d), C.G.S. provides that actions, by agents of a person, firm or corporation, that harm shrubs, ornamental or shade trees, without the consent of a tree warden or other similar authority, are deemed to be the act of the person, firm or corporation.

Under one part of Section 23-59, C.G.S., a tree warden may adopt regulations for the care and preservation of trees and shrubs that will have the force of a town or borough ordinance if approved by the selectmen or the borough warden, and the regulations may provide for a reasonable fine for each violation.

Section 16-236, C.G.S. provides for a Superior Court action for appraisal of damages due for “anything done under any provision of . . . 16-234.”  Section 16-234 sets forth specific requirements for notice to abutting property owners of proposed tree pruning and removal by a utility.

Section 13a-140, C.G.S. (click section number for full text), provides for a fine of $1000.00 for “cutting, removing, damaging or pruning any tree, shrub or vegetation” within the Department of Transportation right-of-way in violation of the 13a-140 requirements, including written permits.  The DOT commissioner may also sue for civil damages.  In addition, subsection (b) provides as follows:  “Notwithstanding the provisions of section 51-164p, any municipality, by ordinance, may establish a civil penalty of not more than one thousand dollars, for cutting, removing, damaging or pruning any tree, shrub or vegetation in violation of the provisions of subsection (a) of this section, on any scenic road, designated pursuant to section 13b-31c, located in said municipality. Any such ordinance shall provide for notice and an opportunity for a hearing prior to the imposition of any such civil penalty. Any person who is assessed a civil penalty pursuant to this subsection may appeal therefrom to the Superior Court.”
NOTE:  This section also includes:  “No  such  permit  shall  be  issued  by  the  commissioner  unless  the  chief  elected  official  of  the  municipality  in  which  any  tree  with  a  diameter  greater  than  eighteen  inches  is  situated  is  notified  in  writing.”

Trees Only on Private Land:

No one, including a utility, has a right to prune or remove a tree located on private land without the consent of the owner of that land, which may be in the form of an easement or other private agreement. (This should apply to shrubs as well, but the cases described address only trees.)

A legal action for damages may be brought under common law or in accordance with a state statute for removal of trees, timber or shrubbery on private land without consent of the property owner.  The statute, Section 52-560, C.G.S., provides for fives times the value of Christmas trees removed or destroyed and three times the value of other trees, timber and shrubs, but only the reasonable value if the removal or destruction was done by mistake.  Despite the use of the terms “trees” and “shrubs,” a recent CT Supreme Court decision, Caciopoli v. Lebowitz (2013) reaffirmed past decisions that limited the remedy under Section 52-560 to the value of trees as timber.

Caciopoli also reaffirmed that a common law remedy exists for such illegal removal.  The  injured property owner can”recover [as damages] the . . . diminution in the value of [the] property” as a result of the unlawful entry and removal of trees.   A 2007 Superior Court decision, Martel v. Powadiuk, measured the diminution in value to be paid as damages to the injured  property owner “based on the costs of removing the severed trees, grinding and removing the stumps, and replacing the trees.”  Some cases have suggested that replacement value is not a proper measure of damages, but the Martel court stated that, in the particular case, “the diminution is fairly ascertained by the cost of clearing up the property and in screening the area with new trees.”  The implication is that replacement costs can be evidence of diminution.

FAQs about Utility Pruning and Removal

The following is provided for information purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. For legal advice regarding particular facts and circumstances, consult an attorney.

For detailed information, consult Summary of CT Tree Laws and Flow Chart of Legal Requirements

1.  What is an “abutting property owner”? 

The abutting property owner is the owner of the land next to the public right-of-way or the utility protection zone, where a utility may prune or remove trees, subject to legal requirements.

2.  What is the difference between the “public right-of-way” and the “utility protection zone”?

The public right-of-way includes the traveled and untraveled portion of a town or state highway (road).  The untraveled portion is the area where there may be trees and shrubs, and sidewalks.  The State typically owns the public right-of-way along state highways.  Some towns (used to refer to all municipalities) also own the public right-of-way in all or part of the town, but in many towns most of the public right-of-ways are easements on the abutting private land.  In either case, the tree warden of the town has “care and control” over the trees and shrubs within the public right-of-way.  For state highways, the Department of Transportation controls pruning and removal of trees in the public right-of-way.

The utility protection zone is simply a defined space in which vegetation management may take place “as necessary, to secure the reliability of utility services.”  [2014 legislation added “as necessary” and omitted ” by protecting overhead wires, poles, conductors or other utility infrastructure.”]  It also placed the burden on the utilities to show, on appeal to PURA, that public convenience and necessity supported their planned removal or pruning. The UPZ space is the rectangular area that is bounded by a vertical line 8 feet out horizontally from the outermost wire or conductor on either side of the distribution system, from ground to sky. The tree warden and the DOT retain the authority to determine the scope and method of vegetation management within this zone, subject to appeal and review by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA).  (See below re: exception for private land in UPZ.)

The utility protection zone’s boundary in relationship to the abutting private land may be the same as that of the public right-of-way.  However, because the boundaries of the public right-of-way vary from town to town and depend on land records for the abutting private land, it is possible that some private land is within the boundaries of the utility protection zone and not in the public right-of-way.  In that case, the utility needs the consent of the abutting private land owner for any pruning or removal of trees on the private land within the utility protection zone.  The 2014 legislation gave property owners a right to request and get information from the utility, municipality or DOT about whether a tree is in the public right-of-way or on private property.  Neither a utility, the tree warden, DOT nor PURA has the authority to require removal or pruning within any private land portion of the utility protection zone or any other part of private property, except that a utility may remove a hazardous trees on private property with 3 days notice to the property owner under the 2014 legislation.

3.  Am I liable to the utility for damages if I refuse to consent to its pruning or removal of a tree that is solely on my private property and a tree or branch falls and damages utility wires, poles and other equipment?

If you are told by a utility representative that it would be your fault if the tree or a branch fell and damaged utility wires, poles and other equipment, that does not mean that the utility can or will try to charge you for damages.   If anyone representing the utility tells you or suggests that you will be charged, report the person and the statement, the location, date and time to the utility and to PURA.

4.  Am I liable to the utility for damages if I object to tree pruning or removal in the public right-of-way abutting my property, the tree is therefore not pruned or removed, and a tree or branch falls and damages utility property? 

By state law, you have a right to object to the tree warden or the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the utility in writing when you receive notice from the utility, you may request a consultation with the tree warden or DOT, and you may pursue an appeal from a decision against you.  (See Summary of Law for details of the process.) 2014 legislation explicitly provided that the utility cannot hold you responsible for any damages caused by your successful objection to tree pruning or removal.  If anyone representing the utility tells you or suggests that you will be charged, report the person and the statement, the location, date and time to the utility.   You must, of course, abide by any final decision in favor of pruning and/or removal of a tree or branch within the public right-of-way.

5.   Does the utility need my consent for removal or pruning of a tree that is in the Utility Protection Zone (UPZ) (8 feet on either side of the wires, from ground to sky), but is not in or overhanging (roots as well as branches) the public right-of-way and therefore is not subject to the control of the tree warden or the Department of Transportation (DOT)?

Yes, except for a hazardous tree.  The utility has no right to remove or prune any tree or shrub on your private property that is not within the public right-of-way without your consent, except with 3 days notice for pruning or removal of a hazardous tree.  You can say no.  Utilities may ask for abutting property owner consent for pruning or removal of a tree that is not in the public right-of-way and therefore not subject to tree warden or DOT control, even though it may be within the UPZ.

Undergrounding of Wires — A Long-term Solution


Undergrounding of electric and communication distribution wires is a long term solution that would achieve greater electric grid reliability and resilience, at the same time preserving the numerous benefits of existing large trees within public rights-of-way and allowing for the planting of similar large trees where none exist or where a tree has become hazardous or diseased and must be removed. Such preservation and planting of large trees is important to reducing carbon emissions for mitigation of climate change and for adaptation and resilience to cope with the effects of climate change.  
Earlier studies of the costs and benefits of undergrounding of electric distribution wires have not focused on climate change, nor have they addressed all of the benefits from and costs avoided by undergrounding of wires.  In recent years, utilities in other states have begun to do strategic undergrounding and are pleased with the increase in resilience and reliability and the lower operating and management costs.  GCNH favors statewide strategic planning for and implementation of undergrounding of overhead electric and communication wires.*    ​
*Last updated:  June 5, 2022

Efforts to Support Undergrounding

Opportunities for the Public to Support Undergrounding

Written comments in support of an undergrounding strategy may be filed in PURA’s Docket No. 17-12-03RE08 on distribution resilience and reliability.  Comments should be sent by email to PURA.ExecutiveSecretary@ct.gov and should reference Docket No. 17-12-03RE08 in the Subject Line.

As mandated in the Final Decision for docket #17-12-08RE08 on 8/31/22, there was a follow-up Report on Undergrounding published by PURA’s Office of Education, Outreach & Enforcement accompanied by a Motion to adopt the Report on December 2, 2022. PURA is accepting responses and here are examples of two excellent ones:

*For information about the current electric distribution company infrastructure and to consider undergrounding in the context of other infrastructure options for reliability and resilience, see “Options Beyond Vegetation Management for Electric Distribution Reliability and Resiliency to Reduce the Frequency and Duration of Power Outages” (published July, 2021).  It does not address financing or analyze costs and benefits.

GCNH Efforts to Support Undergrounding

Statements in Favor of Undergrounding

Prior Statements by GCNH
GCNH and URI letter urging DEEP to plan for maximum undergrounding of utility wires in its Comprehensive Energy Plan, December 13, 2012  The arguments made are given new urgency by the probable increased reliance on electricity to achieve a non carbon energy economy, as well as the  increased reliance on internet communication.  The more frequent and severe storms predicted to occur due to climate change will cause the overhead pole and wire distribution system to fail much more than in the past and cause significant and costly socioeconomic disruption.
Statements by Others
(The following statements do not necessarily represent GCNH positions in every respect.)
  • The Policy on Resilient Forests for Connecticut’s Future (PRFCT Future) Final Report, (12.14.21, accepted by DEEP on 1.11.22), at p.11, supported “Incremental Undergrounding of Electric Infrastructure and Improved Coordination of Underground Utilities” stating: Although the Working Group acknowledges various challenges with coordinating this effort across various entities that run utilities underground, one benefit of doing this would be to remove conflicts with planting and maintaining tall stature trees as well as enhancing urban tree cover in areas where more sustainable development would be encouraged. Investments in incremental undergrounding might be credited against required compensatory mitigation due to unavoidable tree losses under certain conditions.
  • “Burying the Lines Why How — Benefits and Excuses,” by Elizabeth Hopely, December 2020  This statement summarizes numerous benefits of undergrounding electric and communication distribution wires, and addresses excuses given for not undergrounding.
  • “Undergrounding Utilities — The Broad Context (Connecticut),” by Henry Dynia,  February 13, 2021  This statement includes consideration of socio-economic and political factors concerning undergrounding.

Articles on Undergrounding

The articles selected for inclusion below provide different perspectives and information about the need for undergrounding.  They are arranged in reverse chronological order.
NOTE:  Articles have been converted from website links to PDFs to avoid removal from websites and pay walls. 

Studies of Undergrounding and Technical Issues

The following list of resources is incomplete since this field is continually evolving:

Administrative, Legislative & PURA Proceedings

Administrative Proceedings

The Governors Council on Climate Change (GC3), Administered by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) was established by Governor Malloy in 2015 to address mitigation strategies to reduce greenhouse gases. Governor Malloy reestablished and expanded the membership and added consideration of adaptation and resilience in the face of climate change impacts to its responsibilities.

The Phase I Report on Near Term Actions was published in January 2021 based on numerous reports of working groups.  Recommendation 26 in the report is to explore options for a statewide “no-net-loss of forest” policy, and includes consideration of protecting urban forests, building more parks and planting more trees.

This recommendation was based on the 2020 Forests Sub-Group Final Report to the GC3, which included the following at page 32:

“Short Term (1-5 year) Actions

  • Do not permit removals of healthy street trees, and limit removals to trees in hazardous poor condition that are imminent threats to people or electric infrastructure. If trees are removed, PURA should require a plan and support funding for utilities to replant trees, especially in EJ communities with higher percentages of impervious surfaces and related heat island impacts.
  • Pruning should focus on protecting the structural integrity, strength, and health of the trees, and not risk creating hazardous trees in the future by adherence to rigid clearance standards.
  • Appropriate roadside trees, including those that will become large, should be planted with priority to residential areas and especially in EJ communities with higher percentages of impervious surfaces and related heat island impacts.
  • Establish priorities for planned and opportunistic conversion from overhead pole and wire electric distribution to underground wires and upgraded circuits for electric reliability and reduced tree-wire conflicts.
  • Create model municipal ordinances to encourage replacement of and mitigation offsets for non-emergency removals of street trees within the municipal road right-of-way.
  • Establish new standards for state roads that minimize losses of healthy trees.”

In order to further its positions on trees and power, the Garden Club of New Haven has participated in relevant GC3 working groups by attending meetings and submitting written comments on draft reports.

Legislative Proceedings

PURA Proceedings

PURA Final Decisions

PURA Enforcement of Sec. 16-234 and Sec 23-65(f), C.G.S.
  • Docket No. 18-12-25, PURA Limitations on Use of Direct Contact Exception to Avoid Permit and Notice Requirements and more
  • Docket No. 14-07-18, PURA Interpretation of Notice and Permit Requirements
  • ​​Docket No. 12-01-10, PURA Implementation of Public Act 14-151 (now 16-234 C.G.S.)
PURA Reviews of Electric Distribution Company Performance
  • ​GCNH Comments, October 19, 2020
  • The Final Decision in Docket No. 20-08-03 was issued on April 28, 2021.  PURA then reopened Docket No. 08-03RE01 to consider civil penalties and enforcement actions, resulting in imposition of such in a Final Decision in Docket No.20-08-03RE01 on July 14, 2021.
  • PURA also issued a Draft Decision on March 19, 2021, which faults Eversource especially, for failure to prepare, failures in communication and failures in “make safe” work to clear blocked roads.  The decision does not address comments on tree pruning and removal practices or comments in favor of undergrounding filed by the public.

DOCKET NO. 19-01-25, Biennial Review of Vegetation Management Practices

PURA is required to submit a biennial review of the vegetation management practices of the electric distribution companies to the General Assembly’s Energy and Technology Committee, pursuant to Section 16-32k, C.G.S.

Numerous comments were submitted to this docket, including by GCNH, objecting to the use of Targeted Risk Management (TRM) by United Illuminating.  The issues raised were deferred to consideration in Docket No. 18-12-25.  The report’s primary focus is on an examination of vegetation management processes and practices for distribution lines.  It also covers vegetation management on transmission line rights-of-ways, which are typically governed by private easements on the property granted to the utility for maintenance.
With regard to vegetation management on distribution lines, the report concluded:  “Data on property owner responses to proposed EDC VM [vegetation management] work in 2018 shows 92.7% of CL&P’s customers consenting to the proposed VM work, 4.7% modifying the proposed work and 1.9% objecting entirely to the work. Similarly, data on property owner response to UI proposed VM work is positive and indicated that 88% of UI customers consent to proposed VM work, 10.6% modifying the proposed work and 1.2% objecting entirely to the work.”  For more detailed information, consult the decision. ​

The decision limited UI’s Targeted Risk Management program.  Only the minimum level of pruning can be done to address direct contact between wires and trees and visible signs of burning. UI terminated the program, effective January 1, 2021.  

On January 13, 2021 the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (“PURA”) issued a Final Decision in Docket No. 18-12-25 that directed United Illuminating to modify its Targeted Risk Management (TRM) program:  [T]he TRM program shall not be used as an alternative or replacement to UPZ [pruning] to achieve tree line clearance for 4 to 5 years.  In summary, the Authority concludes that subsection (e) of Conn. Gen. Stat. 16-234 only authorizes an electric distribution company to perform vegetation management where there is direct contact and visible signs of burning and that only the minimum level of pruning be done to resolve the offense.”  GCNH argued for such an interpretation of subsection (e) in comments made to PURA.  Eversource must also comply with this interpretation when it does direct contact pruning pursuant to subsection (e).

Under this decision, United Illuminating cannot continue to use TRM to avoid the normal requirements of the law that it obtain a permit from municipal tree wardens and notify abutting property owners before pruning or removing trees within the Utility Protection Zone (UPZ) surrounding its electric distribution wires.

In addition to preventing UI from using TRM as a way to avoid getting permits and giving notification for vegetation management within the Utility Protection Zone (UPZ), the decision also requires:
(1)  documentation of TRM work with before and after photographs; and
(2)  door hangers for notification of TRM work that include the address of the property, the date on which notification was attempted, the earliest date on which planned work will be performed, and phone and email contact information.

The decision also discusses possible establishment of a vegetation management working group with DEEP Forestry, focused on reliability and resilience.  ​

Comments filed by the Garden Club of New Haven in this docket:

PURA Final Decision, Docket 14-07-18

PURA required the utilities to bring their notices to property owners into compliance with explicit statutory requirements. However, the decision allows the utilities to ask tree wardens for permits to prune or remove trees according to rigid line clearance standards, such as ETT, without evaluating and specifying which trees need to be pruned or removed (often referred to as a “blanket permit”).  PURA recognized the authority of tree wardens to require evaluation and justification of pruning and removal by the utilities prior to issuing  permits and to otherwise regulate such work, but, if a tree warden does not exercise his/her authority, it falls to property owners alone to object or request a modification.  If tree wardens post trees after or prior to issuance of a permit, any person can object and ask for a hearing before the tree warden.  If some property owners in a community do not understand the loss of benefits, including reduced property values, that unnecessary removal of mature trees can cause, all property owners will be harmed. ​

June 25, 2014 

Brief Highlights of the PURA Final Decision
The Final Decision in Docket No. 12-01-10, Tree Trimming, issued June 25, 2014, made significant improvements in its original draft decision of November 19, 2013 and reflected
the changes in the law made by Public Act 14-151.  PURA and the utilities must, of course, comply with all relevant state statutes.
In brief, the Final Decision:

  • Mandates utility flexibility in determining what pruning and removal of roadside trees and shrubs is necessary for utility reliability, and directs the utilities to consider the diversity of vegetation among urban, suburban and rural areas.
  • Requires a utility to evaluate each tree according to numerous relevant criteria ten days prior to notifying a property owner of its plans. 
  • Explicitly states PURA’s preference that objections to proposed pruning and removal be resolved at the local level. 
  • Recognizes that no utility pruning or removal can take place without a tree warden permit.
  • Establishes procedures, including maintenance of records,  designed to ensure that all property owners along the roads actually receive notice of proposed pruning and removal, so that they can exercise their rights to object or request modifications in the utility’s plans.
  • Requires notice by certified mail, return receipt, if no other methods of contacting a property owner have been successful. 
  • Makes a commitment to work with DEEP’s forestry division  in reviewing vegetation management plans and in handling appeals  to PURA by a utility or property owner from a tree warden’s decisions. 
  • Requires the utilities to submit specified useful data.  
For a more detailed summary see:  Summary and Comments on the PURA Final Decision