Power to the people!

This bird was cooked slow and low under foil and needed a last-minute browning blast.  Thanksgiving’s power failure altered dinner plans for thousands of households.  

Four weeks into the official municipal election campaign and I’m hearing about issues that never get mentioned in public discussions. Here’s one we can all relate to.

A Whitlock West couple whose Thanksgiving turkey dinner was disrupted by that Sunday power failure wondered what could be done other than installing a generator. Although their neighbourhood boasts underground power lines, residents are hit by the same power outages that all too often darken the triangle between Harwood Blvd., Alstonvale Road and Côte St. Charles.

Could the Town of Hudson intervene with Hydro Quebec to limit power failures? Hydro Quebec says its crews are in the midst of its ongoing preventive pruning program, but interventions are limited to ensuring a minimum clearance for transmission lines. Hydro pruning crews don’t attempt to identify and fell every tree with the potential to cause outages because they don’t have the resources.

Do Quebec municipalities have a legal responsibility to limit the risk from downed trees? Jurisprudence is scarce. A St. Lazare resident took the city to small claims court after trees along a town-owned Hydro servitude destroyed appliances and knocked out his power for several days. He lost. There was talk of a class action lawsuit but lawyers couldn’t agree on who to sue.

After a town-owned rotten poplar fell on Gabriel Rossy’s car, killing him in 2006, his family fought all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to sue the City of Westmount instead of accepting a Quebec Automobile Insurance Board settlement. They lost, but only because he was in his car. If he had been walking or cycling, would the courts have decided otherwise?

Quebec law holds the property owner responsible for damage if it can be proven a tree was unhealthy or otherwise presented a risk, but who is prepared to waste time and money to track the root cause of a power failure that delayed Thanksgiving dinner?

Property owners have a legal responsibility to manage any of their trees posing a risk to their neighbours. I think the town should set an example by tending to trees on public land with a potential for risk. Right now I’m looking at an otherwise healthy shagbark hickory on the town setback with a crack starting at a bole 25 feet above the pavement. If that branch was to break off, it would take out the neighbourhood power lines and could easily kill someone happening by at that moment.

Hudson is lucky to have a number of tree-care professionals with the experience to judge whether a tree poses a risk and the expertise and equipment to deal with it. A permit is needed to fell a tree more than four inches in diameter, but Hudson’s technical services division is quick to inspect and issue a permit.

Back to the core question: what if anything can the town do to reduce blackouts? Anyone who lived through the ’98 Ice Storm and Hudson’s all-too-frequent blackouts would be curious to know the answer. I know I am.


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