GMP tree contract raises concerns
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | January 11,2013
The future of some local tree service companies is in question now that Green Mountain Power Corp. has awarded a statewide contract to a Pennsylvania company.
Asplundh Tree Expert Co. of Willow Grove, Pa., was awarded a three-year contract that accounts for half of the utility’s annual tree trimming work, GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said Thursday.
She said Asplundh won the contract after a competitive bidding process and that the contract, combined with efficiencies in its tree trimming program, will save ratepayers $500,000 or more a year.
The amount of the contract wasn’t disclosed, but Schnure said GMP has budgeted $13 million this year for all tree-related work.
“Asplundh came in with the best value for our customers,” Schnure said. “It will save our customers significant amounts of money, and the important thing is they use local crews.”
Asplundh, with 30,000 employees in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, will perform 60 percent of the work along GMP’s distribution network — lines that run from the utility poles to a customer’s home or business.
But the contract raises questions about the economic fallout on local tree service companies that did the same work for Central Vermont Public Service Corp., which merged with GMP last year.
“We were allowed to bid on it, but we just couldn’t come in at their rate,” said Jeff Michaud, a vice president with Trees Inc., on Gleason Road. “The little guy can’t do that. We can’t compete with that sort of price and structure.”
Michaud said GMP’s strategy of awarding work to a single source to save money will likely have a ripple effect on his company and others.
Although Michaud said he hopes Trees Inc. will be able to grab a piece of the remaining GMP work, he also said the company, which has 30 employees, is “looking at layoffs.”
At New England Tree Experts in Hardwick, owner Ryan Molleur said earlier this week that GMP had not yet notified him about the contract award.
“There’s a lot of talk out there, but until you receive the contract and things are determined, it’s hard to speculate on where we all expect things are going to go,” said Molleur, who has 50 employees.
Molleur said the work he’s done for GMP and CVPS represents about 60 percent of his business.
He could not be reached for further comment Thursday.
Messages left this week for Vaillancourt Tree Service in Pittsford were not returned.
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, said he had heard jobs would be lost as a result of the contract but that on Thursday two GMP officials assured him that was not the case. Mullin, who raised concerns about the GMP-CVPS merger, said he was told that work would be subcontracted to local tree companies.
Mullin said he asked GMP to get back to him with more information.
Asplundh is looking to hire 40 to 50 tree trimmers to work throughout the GMP service territory, said Ralph Guadagno, an Asplundh vice president, on Thursday.
Earlier this week, the company held an informational meeting for prospective employees in White River Junction.
Guadagno said he expects to hire most of the workers from local tree companies.
“We did tell the existing employees that were working for these other vendors that they probably would not lose any pay,” he said. “Actually, their health benefits, they’d be saving money.”
Guadagno also said Asplundh would honor their seniority and vacation time.
Once signed, the contract takes effect Feb. 1.
Schnure said that before the CVPS merger, GMP’s tree trimming work was performed by one contractor, Ohio-based The Davy Tree Expert Co.
She said with Asplundh awarded 50 percent of the overall tree work, half remains to be awarded.
“We’ll be working with other vendors for that, so for the companies that were not the most competitive in this bid process,” Schnure said, “there are other opportunities for them with the remaining (50 percent) of the work that we have.”
The remaining work includes trimming along transmission lines, tree removal, capital construction work, customer service work and interim trimming, which is outside the regular trimming schedule.
Storm-related tree work is a separate budget item.