Rockland city councilors voted Feb. 1 to put a temporary halt to tree trimming work by Central Maine Power Company after residents complained that the work had laid waste to a large section of the city.

The council voted 3-2 to call for a formal public hearing to review the plans by CMP and the firm it hired for the tree cutting work — ABC Professional Tree Services. The hearing has been scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. at city hall.

State law mandates that CMP halt the tree cutting work until that hearing is held.

The item was not originally on the council’s Feb. 1 agenda but Councilors Elizabeth Dickerson and Brian Harden developed the order for the formal public hearing over the weekend following complaints from citizens about what they considered brutal cutting practices at homes and businesses throughout the city. All five councilors agreed to add the item to the agenda but there was some disagreement on whether the council should put a complete halt to the tree work.

CMP and ABC officials defended the work at the Feb. 1 meeting with the power company and said the cutting was needed to assure customers of a reliable source of electricity.

But the residents who spoke out at the meeting disagreed with that assessment.

Virginia Slawson, who owns a studio and lives at 497 Main St.,  said she spotted a tree cutting crew in back of her property the morning of Feb. 1. She said workers planned to cut down everything that was growing between her building and Lermond’s Cove, including “volunteer maples,” a pink honeysuckle bush, the wild apple trees and wild rosebushes.

“If I hadn’t looked out when I did our garden area would have been clear cut,” Slawson said.

She said that garden area is used by her and her husband and their tenants who spend a lot of time there during the summer raising vegetables and flowers and enjoying the birds.

Slawson said she called the police and then a supervisor from CMP arrived. The company agreed to not do the work that day.

Peta Van Vuuren, who lives on Broadway at the intersection of Willow Street, said that two weeks ago a 40-foot majestic, healthy maple tree was cut and left with no limbs on its street side. She said she then noticed that trees along the rest of Willow Street were cut in the same manner.

“Something has gone terribly awry,” Van Vuuren said.

Former Councilor Adele Faber also voiced sharp criticism of the cutting and the lack of response by the city to the “ongoing, unsightly slaughter of trees.”

Faber said she suggested to City Manager Rosemary Kulow last week that Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent Terry Pinto be appointed to monitor the tree work, noting he has been active in tree plantings for the city around the treatment plant.

She asked the council to call for a public hearing to put a temporarily halt to the tree work. She said this would give the council time to appoint a tree warden or someone to monitor the work.

Faber also advised residents of their legal rights in the event they object to tree cutting on any property they have a legal interest in. She said that if the property owner tells the cutting crew to stop, the crew must stop and the property owner has the right to meet with an ABC supervisor, a CMP arborist and a state arborist before work can continue.

John Carroll, manager for public communications for CMP, said the company’s mandate from the Maine Public Utilities Commission is to reduce outages and one way to do that is to remove trees and limbs that can knock down lines in storms. He said the trees are within public rights of way.

Carroll said CMP is willing to discuss its tree cutting plans with individuals or the city, but  in the end if a tree creates a safety hazard it will have to be cut or trimmed.

Councilors after more than two hours of discussions voted 3-2 to call for the public hearing, which halts the cutting in Rockland. Voting for the hearing were Councilors Elizabeth Dickerson, Brian Harden and Eric Hebert.

“It’s a collision of interests,” Dickerson said.

Dickerson said she believes the groups can work together. The hearing will give the city time to get a temporary tree warden or committee to come up with plans for appropriate cutting practices.

Harden said he agreed it was a delicate balance between protecting transmission lines and preserving trees but he was not happy with the work he had witnessed.

“I’ve been so disappointed over the brutality of what has been done to trees in my neighborhood,” he said.

Mayor Deborah McNeil asked if there was a way for the council to arrange for a review but not stop all tree work by CMP. Dickerson said if the order was approved the work would have to be halted.

Molloy said he could not support the order, saying it had been hastily put together.

CMP said the plan is to continue tree cutting until summer.

On CMP’s Web site (cmpco.com) under a bar at the top labeled “Your Home” there is a listing for “Tree Care” where people can send in a form electronically to ask that they be contacted before cutting is done. The mailing address is CMP, c/o vegetation management, 83 Edison Drive, Augusta, ME 04336.

There is also a vegetation management number for no spray agreements at 1-800-972-8600.

The number for consumer assistance at the Public Utilities Commission is 1-800-452-4699.