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RvK Testifies at NY State PSC Hearing on Con Edison’s Right-of-Way Practices

coned clear cut

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Clear-cutting detrimental to watershed and property values

Last month, Riverkeeper testified at the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) hearing about comments we submitted concerning Con Edison’s right-of-way vegetation management plan. Riverkeeper viewed problematic maintenance work in Yorktown, New York, where the company clear-cut excessive trees and other vegetation, and we received reports of Con Ed’s failure to notify property owners of the extent of its proposed vegetation management activities.

Utility companies rely on clear-cutting practices to save costs by eliminating all vegetation in the right-of-way rather than taking a tiered approach that leaves non-interfering vegetation in place. Our primary concerns about this practice are the recurring impacts to wetlands and wetland buffer areas. The clear-cutting of vegetation and improperly installed stormwater management practices have resulted in heavier stormwater flows leaving Con Edison’s rights-of-way, at times causing excessive erosion and sediment to be transported to wetlands that ultimately drain to drinking water reservoirs in the New York City East-of-Hudson (EOH) Watershed . In addition to its immediate environmental impacts, clear-cutting also degrades viewsheds of private landowners and depreciates property values adjacent to the clear-cut areas.

Riverkeeper recommends an approach that eliminates the potentially devastating environmental impacts of clear-cutting by removing only those trees that pose a line hazard within the wire zone and leaving trees and other vegetation of lower heights within the right-of-way to intercept stormwater for infiltration and plant uptake. This practice will require oversight to monitor compliance and to ensure that the tiered approach provides sustained water quality benefits. Riverkeeper further noted that local municipal agencies that have enacted far more protective wetland ordinances are powerless to enforce them against Con Edison because, in many instances, the company’s activities in streams and wetlands are claimed exempt from additional State and local regulation under Article VII of the New York State Public Service Law; this includes regulations enforced by New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which is charged with protecting the EOH drinking water supply. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) can issue Nationwide Permit 12 for Utility Line Activities, with special conditions applicable to the EOH Watershed, which has been granted Critical Resource Waters designation. However, Riverkeeper is gravely concerned that ACOE permitting has become inconsistent, and in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, that many previously protected wetlands now go unregulated once determined to be non-jurisdictional “isolated” waters.

When the PSC has completed its public review of the utilities’ vegetation management plans the commission will release its findings, which Riverkeeper will then review to determine whether any further action on our part is required.

Riverkeeper PSC Comments
Riverkeeper PSC Testimony

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