Hurricane Sandy on my street

This is the house next door to mine (just outside the camera range, behind the tree branches) in Huron Village, Cambridge, MA.  I immediately checked on my neighbors, a retired pair of professors and found them fine, without even a power interruption.  The tree was resting right on the electrical and phone lines, however, which should make anyone anxious.  The police came by, called the city, and a building inspector arrived.  He told my neighbors to hire an electrician and talk to the city soliciter about reimbursement.  I promised to call City Hall for them today and make sense of it.  I understand that municipal resources are strained, but “deal with it,” seems like an inadequate response from one’s city when a large tree is leaning on the power lines.

Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.

13 thoughts on “Hurricane Sandy on my street”

  1. And it’s a street tree, responsibility of the city, not the property owner! I’ve had good results with street tree problems (dangling overhead limbs) by contacting, simultaneously, the mayor, the city manager, and my council member. “Call an electrician” my ass. Call the electric utility!! It’s their responsibility until it gets to the house.

  2. The urban forester in me sees that narrow treelawn and wonders why every single tree didn’t go down on that street. Do you have a larger foto that I can use with acknowledgement?

    I hope everyone is safe.

  3. It sounds (perhaps I’m wrong) as if the city has implicitly accepted responsibility by mentioning reimbursement, but said that this particular problem is not really high on their list of things to fix. So if you want it done now, hire someone and bill the city later. If you want utility crews and city workers to take care of the problem, you might have to wait until they have gotten back from helping some of the millions of people whose homes were flooded and the more than ten million who are actively without electricity.

    1. Exactly. When did we become a people who can’t do anything to help ourselves? This is a political season and this incident can serve as a good lesson in how we view government. While I do believe that government of all stripes should be there and be engaged in lots of things…….a tree down in my yard is something that I’m going to handle myself (and yes, I understand that this one is leaning on power lines so you have to call the right people, all that stuff…..).

  4. It is a city tree. The city is responsible. Calling the city to deal with it is perfectly appropriate. On the other hand, the response also seems reasonable to me–obviously the normal city resources are occupied, and there isn’t any immediate danger, so if you want the tree moved, get someone to do it and bill us. I agree about calling the utility, but I imagine they have their hands full as well.

    1. Well yes, both the city and the utility have their hands full … with exactly problems like this. Without official involvement, few contractors are going to come in and cut apart a tree resting on live electrical wires. Moreover, we don’t have millions of people whose homes were flooded here in eastern Mass, nor millions without electricity. I think the call to self-reliance is, in this case, misguided and potentially dangerous. So no, I don’t agree that the city’s response is reasonable, and I doubt that elected officials would agree either, were they notified.

      1. Did you consider that in the places where millions of people aren’t affected, first responders might be off in areas where millions of people are? Emergency workers and equipment are being airlifted from California and Texas, according to news reports. That’s because, even with all the the workers in the northeast and atlantic states dealing with outages, there still aren’t enough.

        It boggles me to think what you might be saying if you were in Atlantic City.

        1. Did you consider my previous argument that it is unsafe for the property owner to try and remove the tree themselves or with non-city/utility hired help? Also, while we here in Cambridge have trees on live lines (as in the case under discussion), our utility crews and city first responders aren’t being airlifted anywhere.

          It boggles me to think what you might be saying if the owner were electrocuted while following your advice.

    2. Some cities cede responsibility of their street trees to the property owner. Bad idea, I know.

      1. That’s not the case in Cambridge: city retains full responsibility for all trees between sidewalk and curb. And utility company retains full responsibility for power from pole to house, and in fact must disconnect power at the pole before anyone (city, homeowner, or self-reliant survivalist) can legally and safely remove the fallen tree from the wires.

        It’s not a zero-sum game, where one elderly couple helped in relatively unscathed Cambridge means one less elderly couple left to drown in Atlantic City.

  5. Did you call Nstar?

    I live in Cambridge also and got one of those robo-calls from them about how well-prepared they were, etc.

    OTOH, they certainly might have moved crews elsewhere, given that we didn’t take much of a blow and there are very severe problems in other places. I didn’t lose power either, and see no downed trees on the street, though there is an Nstar truck parked out front.

  6. I live just down the street, didn’t see this one but there was a tree down on Fresh Pond Parkway that went through the roof of a house, the city was dealing with that last night- tree was gone this morning. There was a tree on Huron Ave that was just taped off because it wasn’t an immediate threat, it had crushed two cars. I’m guessing they’re just triaging for now.

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