WESTFIELD, NJ – PSE&G will take down 54 trees and trim 43 more in the next six months as it upgrades its electrical infrastructure, representatives for the utility told the Town Council on Tuesday.

PSE&G spokesman Michael Coyle said the utility will make the cuts to make room to replace existing utility poles with taller ones that meet the state's safety requirement for an increase in the lines' voltage.

“The poles that we’re going to be installing are going to be 15 feet taller than we have now,” Coyle said. “In order to get the higher voltage, we need to get higher poles.”

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PSE&G will increase the lines power from 26,000 volts to 69,000 volts and connect seven of its substations in the region as part of the project to increase the electrical grid's reliability, Coyle said.

The utility will replace the trees removed at a rate that depends on the tree being removed, said Jay Kaplan, a supervisor with the PSE&G vegetation management group. The utility will replace larger trees with smaller trees, Kaplan said. 

Nine of the trees slated to be removed are on private property and five of those slated to be trimmed are on private property, he said.

Dogwoods, redbuds, hawthorns, lilacs and other trees – which do not grow as high as electrical wires – will comprise the replacements, Kaplan said.

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In other municipalities, Kaplan said, the work has surprised the public.

“The initial reaction is usually one of shock because we install the pole and we move our equipment over,” he said.

Kaplan added: “For a time there are two poles: one that’s cut in half and it's really short, and a new pole.”

Councilman David Contract said he is worried about the impact of the trees’ removal on the local forest canopy.

“We already have a problem with too many trees coming out in this community so that is a concern of mine,” Contract said.

Beginning this week, PSE&G representatives will notify nearby homeowners of the planned cutting, Kaplan said. The work will start on Scotch Plains Avenue moving toward Westfield's border with Garwood, he said.

While the work will take six months, Kaplan said, crews will not be in Westfield the entire time.

Councilwoman Linda Habgood asked the PSE&G representatives about existing utility poles removed, which residents said left holes on Edgewood Avenue.

“We have safety issues,” Habgood said. “All these holes are on the street, and they’re left open. They’re filling with water when it rains.”

Compounding the problem, she said, is street lights that are out on the thoroughfare. PSE&G representatives have said Verizon should address the issues and Verizon representatives have said PSE&G should address them, according to Habgood.

Coyle said his company should step in, even if PSE&G didn’t cause the problem.

“If Verizon is being less than responsive, I feel it is our responsibility to get it done,” he said.

News of the six-month-long utility pole project potential impact on the tree canopy came as the Town Council amended a previously approved contract with Timmerman Equipment Company for an aerial lift truck.

The equipment's cost will increase by $9,394 to $162,893, according to the resolution approving the updated contract.

The truck will be used for tree-work among other projects.

Contract, who is the council’s liaison to the Green Team, said town plans to plant 350 to 400 new trees on municipal property this year.

Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net; Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh