January 17, 2013
If you appreciate Greensboro
's trees you can thank the Greensboro
City Council, led by Councilmember Nancy Vaughan, for continued protection of the city's trees from the clear-cutting crews of Duke Energy.
At the Greensboro
City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15, it appeared city staff was recommending that Duke Energy be allowed to follow some new notification guidelines and go back to cutting as usual, but Vaughan asked Duke Energy District Manager Davis Montgomery to hold off on cutting until the City Council can pass a tree protection ordinance. Montgomery indicated they would not start cutting right away, but made no promise to wait for council.
That action by Vaughan followed a report by Deputy City Manager Jim Westmoreland – on behalf of the committee appointed to look for a solution to the uproar caused by Duke Energy clear cutting parts of the Westerwood and Southside neighborhoods in December – and after speakers – who were opposed to the cutting by Duke Energy and were lined up down the side of the council chambers – spoke.
Over 100 people in favor of stopping Duke Energy's current tree cutting program attended the meeting. So many that not only were the council chambers filled but all the chairs in the lobby were filled and it was standing room only outside the chamber.
Unfortunately, the city staff still doesn't seem to get it. Both City Manager Denise Turner Roth and Westmoreland appeared to be under the mistaken impression that this is a problem that can be solved with better communication and having Duke Energy or the city remove the debris after they are cut and also grind the stumps.
On Wednesday, Roth said she understood the city needed to implement some kind of appeal process, but that was not the message from staff on Tuesday night.
Fortunately, Vaughan heard what the speakers from the neighborhoods said, one after another that they don't want Duke Energy to cut mature trees to the ground or mangle them so badly that they look like they need to be cut down.
One of those speakers, Ben Andrews of Woodlawn Avenue said he had been tending the small forest at the back of his yard for 26 years until the day a crew from Asplundh, sent by Duke Energy, came and clear cut the trees. Andrews, clearly a man who appreciates trees, talked about "the bee tree" and " the singing tree," which are now gone.
Drew Perry of Fairmont Street said, "This is not a problem of communication. The problem is haphazard pruning of trees." He asked for the council to pass a comprehensive tree ordinance to protect Greensboro
's trees. The committee's report had included a lot of talk about replanting, and Perry said, "Once a 75-year-old oak is lost, with all due respect, a crepe myrtle does not solve that problem."
It was pointed out that the problem was not that Duke Energy was not grinding stumps and removing debris, but that people didn't want the stumps there in the first place, they want the trees the stumps used to be.
Randal Romie, who is a landscape architect and a member of the committee, spoke during the committee's report, mainly about planting the right tree in the right place. He said he had learned a lot from Duke Energy about proper tree trimming. He said the goal would be for Duke not to need to do any pruning.
Most of Westmoreland's report was about notification for the city and the residents, which misses the point. The residents of Greensboro
came out in force to say, "Stop cutting down our trees," not "Make sure you tell us before you cut down the trees."
The same is true for the debris removal. Yes, when Duke cuts down a tree it is extremely insulting to have them leave all the pieces. People at that point can't do anything about the tree being destroyed, it can't be glued back together, but they can complain about adding insult to injury.
Time after time the city staff has missed this message. Fortunately, the City Council did not.
Montgomery, when he spoke during the committee report, gave a little tutorial on the different kinds of power lines, which was about as pertinent as if he had talked about the different brands of chainsaws used to cut down trees.
One question Roth and Westmoreland refused to answer in any meaningful way after the meeting was, where is the city's urban forester, Mike Cusimano, in all of this? The city is paying Cusimano over $52,000 a year to be the city's expert on trees. The City Council appointed a committee to look into the issue of pruning and cutting down trees in the city. Director of Engineering and Inspections Butch Simmons is on that committee, along with Donna Gray from the community relations department and Westmoreland. So the city had three people on the committee, but not the city's expert on trees. What do Simmons or Gray know about pruning or cutting down trees? If Duke Energy says a tree has to be cut to look like a dead stick, neither Simmons nor Gray have the expertise to say, "No, it doesn't." You would hope that the city urban forester would.
When the mayor and councilmembers held their initial meeting with Duke Energy, Cusimano was not at the table. One possible reason is that Cusimano signed off on the tree cutting in Westerwood and Southside for the city. Duke Energy has repeatedly said that the city signed off on all the trees that were cut to the ground in Westerwood and Southside in the city's right-of-way. Cusimano is the one who signs off on that cutting for the city.
So, if you bring in Cusimano, it reveals just how culpable the City of Greensboro
is in this situation. It wasn't just an Asplundh crew hired by Duke Energy going in and clear cutting a neighborhood without proper notification, it was the city agreeing that all those trees needed to be cut down and the city not bothering to notify its citizens that it had authorized Duke Energy to cut the street trees to the ground. The city didn't bother to go out and explain why all of a sudden a tree that had been growing near electrical wires for 50 years was such a danger that it had to be cut to the ground immediately.
After all this time, Roth says that she doesn't know if Cusimano signed off on cutting the trees in Westerwood and Southside or not. Montgomery has repeatedly said publicly that the city has the authority to approve the cutting of trees in the city right-of-way and that the city approved every tree in the city right-of-way that was cut. Roth and Westmoreland in the past month have not bothered to find out if that is true or not, which is a curious attitude for people trying to fix a problem. Usually you want to know exactly what the problem is before trying to fix it.
Maybe in this case the real problem was that the city staff didn't exercise the authority it had and the fault lies not with Duke Energy or Asplundh but with the City of Greensboro
. Maybe not, but the people who should know say that they don't.
So has the city ever said to Duke Energy, "No, you cannot cut down that tree." Roth said she doesn't know and also said that she wasn't sure the city had the authority to do so....continued on page 2