By Richard Cowen, The Record
North Jersey, NJ (January 13, 2013) – New Jersey lost an estimated 400,000 trees as a result of Superstorm Sandy. The path of destruction through some of North Jersey’s greenest suburbs is prompting some towns to rethink the way they plant trees and to consider changes to tree ordinances. This includes allowing replanting on homeowner’s lawns, away from sidewalks, to allow tree roots more room to spread out and establish a firmer footing. But not everyone agrees with replanting off the right of way.
Those stately elms and oaks towns planted on the right of way years ago caused a lot of damage when Sandy blew through. The state lost an estimated 400,000 trees in Sandy, and many of them took down power lines and slammed into homes and cars.
While the cleanup continues, many towns are planning to replace at least some of the trees lost along streets and in parks. With memories of Sandy fresh, some are leaning away from the right of way.
Both Glen Rock and Ridgewood are considering changes to their tree ordinances to allow replanting on the homeowner’s lawn. Such a change would require the town to get a so-called landscaper’s easement from the homeowner.
Tim Cronin, Ridgewood’s director of parks and shade trees, estimated that about 90 percent of the homeowners who lost trees in front of their houses in Sandy would like a new one. Ridgewood, known for its trees, lost many in Sandy. Cronin said the village lost trees at 363 locations — both private and public— and was developing plans to replace its public trees.
“The canopy in town is a concern for everybody,” Cronin said. “Most homeowners realize that a tree adds value to the property.”
In Glen Rock, the Shade Tree Commission has been meeting with the mayor and council to discuss changes to regulations that apply to public and private trees. Mayor John van Keuren said the town is trying to prevent a repeat of the lengthy power outages caused by Sandy.
Most of the shady streets that line North Jersey towns are part of a grid laid down more than a century ago. Many of the trees are old. In areas of new development, utility lines are underground, so trees aren’t an issue.
Although a shady canopy makes for a charming street, planting on the right of way is an old idea that has been phased out in some towns. Paramus plants its trees on the homeowner’s front lawn. Wayne started doing that eight years ago.
Paramus, which has a shade tree commission consisting of 17 employees, operates a nursery on Century Road. The borough lost nearly 300 trees on public land during Sandy and intends to replace just about all of them, said Joseph Sexton, director of shade trees and parks for Paramus.
Sexton said the nursery grows all kinds of trees and plants smaller species that are most “utility friendly” under power lines. “There really is no perfect tree,” Sexton said. “Every tree has pros and cons. What we’re really trying to find is co-habitation between trees and wires.”
And by planting on the homeowner’s lawn rather than on the narrow right of way, the roots have more room to spread out instead of being scrunched under the sidewalk.
Wayne lost 420 trees on public land during Sandy. It will plant a tree free on a homeowner’s front lawn, but it must be at least 4 feet from the on the sidewalk. Ryan Edge, Wayne’s supervisor of landscape and park development, said trees planted on the right of way often don’t have room to spread their roots.
“When they fall, they rip up the sidewalk with it,” he said. Not everyone agrees with replanting off the right of way.
Clay Bosch, the head of the Shade Tree Committee in Woodcliff Lake, said moving the trees back from the street changes the canopy. “I don’t like it,” Bosch said. “To plant trees way back on the lawn, well, it’s just not the same effect.” Woodcliff Lake will continue to replace trees on the right of way, Bosch said, adding that trees on the right of way produce better shade.
It is the responsibility of the power company to prune the trees and keep the power lines clear. But Sandy damaged so many power lines that many residents were without power for nearly two weeks.
Many residents blasted the utilities for a response they deemed inadequate. Moving forward, both Public Service Electric and Gas and Orange & Rockland Utilities say they will prune trees more frequently.
PSE&G is encouraging towns to replant trees that are small enough so they won’t interfere with the power lines. It has published a list of species it recommends as utility friendly and sent it to the towns.
“These problems tend to reoccur because a lot of the wrong types of trees are planted,” said Kristine Snodgrass, a PSE&G spokeswoman. “You don’t want a tree to be higher than the utility pole.”
Sexton, the Paramus parks official, suggested that Sandy’s devastation may have left some homeowners eager to take down trees they consider to be potential hazards before the next big storm hits.
“Unfortunately, after the storm, everyone is afraid of trees,” he said. But he said the environmental benefits of trees so far outweigh their dangers that replanting is a must.
In that spirit, the New Jersey Tree Foundation is giving away 15,000 young trees to other non-profits for planting this spring. The program is open to non-profits, including governments and schools. For details, go to newjerseytreefoundation.org.