Land Use

Fate of Three Popular Providence Trees Tied to Utility Upgrades

These three London planetrees on South Main Street in Providence are slated to be cut down to make way for new underground transmission lines. (Joanna Detz/ecoRI News)

After local uproar over the pending removal of three middle-aged London planetrees on South Main Street in Providence, ecoRI contacted National Grid and city forester Douglas Still to get their take on the situation.

The healthy London planetrees are located directly on top of two vaults that contain high-power transmission lines, according to Still.

“They were installed in the 1940s,” he said, “and according to National Grid it is essential that they are updated along a two-mile stretch from South Main Street, Charles Street, and Admiral Street … the trees are directly in the way, growing in about two feet of soil.”

Michael Masseur, a spokesperson for National Grid, said the trees were planted years after the original cables were installed, and are currently sitting on top of the existing duct band and two manhole covers.

“As this underground infrastructure needs to be upgraded with the installation of the new cable, our team — along with coordination from the City— has not identified a feasible path that would allow the trees to remain because of the reliability impacts, potential safety hazards to our workers during construction, and potential safety hazards to the public once the work is complete,” he wrote in an email.

John Goncalves, Providence Ward 1 City Council member, is advocating that the trees somehow be kept.

In a recent statement, Goncalves wrote, “I realize that it would be costly to move such large and mature trees but the proposal to simply plant at minimum 23 new trees to replace them, as required by ordinance, doesn’t go far enough. Ultimately, I hope that National Grid will work with the community, including the 10,000 Suns volunteers, neighborhood residents, the neighborhood association, as well as local business owners, and provide them with any additional data and documentation that they have requested regarding the ramifications of the removal of these trees.”

If and when the London planetrees are removed, the trees that will replace them will likely be planted in spring 2021.

National Grid has said the trees need to felled so two aging underground transmission lines, part of the multinational corporation’s Power4Tomorrow initiative, can be replaced.

Nearly 500 concerned residents have signed a letter decrying the trees’ planned removal.

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