February 14, 2013Addressing tree preservation on both public and private property appears to be the plan of the Tree Ordinance Review Committee of the Greensboro City Council, which met again Monday, Feb. 11 at 3:30 p.m. in the council chambers at city hall to hear from the public.
Speaking at that meeting, Emilie Sandin said that she wanted line clearance standards for primary lines to be different from the standards for secondary lines, which run directly to residences
Sandin said she thought if different standards had been in place, "I think a lot of the trees that were actually cut down on Woodlawn would not have been cut down."
Duke Energy District Manager Davis Montgomery said that Duke Energy does not typically trim around secondary lines.
Sandin presented a map of Westerwood from Duke Energy with both primary and secondary lines that were marked for clearing.
After some checking, Montgomery determined that the legend on the map, which had been given to a neighborhood association by Duke Energy, was wrong. Instead, he said that the red and blue lines on the map represented different circuits, not different kinds of lines.
Brian Higgins said that the utility company shouldn't be the city's only focus. He suggested requiring a street tree permit to "check the record to make sure you're planting the right tree in the right spot."
Bill Markham, representing the Sierra Club, said the ordinance should address line clearance standards as well as issues like cleanup. "I think it is key that we not let this be defined as a communication problem," he said.
The fact that Chapel Hill's tree ordinance once addressed line clearing, but now no longer does, was brought up at the meeting. Judy Stalder of Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (TREBIC) asked why the Chapel Hill ordinance no longer contained those provisions.
Greensboro Urban Forrester Mike Cusimano said that following a major ice storm that caused power outages in the area, the city decided, "It was in their best interest to allow Duke Energy to trim the trees as they felt was necessary."
Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter pointed out that Duke Energy's subcontractor for tree cutting, Asplundh Tree Expert Co., had not been present in the discussions about line clearing.
Abuzuaiter said there were questions about the way Asplundh carried out Duke Energy's work that need to be answered.
Councilmember Nancy Vaughan, chair of the committee, said, "Whatever we put on public property I would like to put on private property as well."
In other tree news, on Thursday, Feb. 7, Duke Energy held a "community workshop" in the Lindley Park recreation center, complete with city security, less than a month after residents of Collier Drive received flyers telling them that line clearing activity would start in three business days.
The Collier Drive work, which Duke Energy agreed last month to put off until Feb. 11, has since been put off indefinitely.
The community workshop was about clearing trees around transmission lines, which Duke Energy has taken pains to emphasize are very different from the distribution lines that run along residential properties. Transmission lines are strung between those large metal towers, not on wooden telephone poles in people's yards.
There was no opportunity for residents as a group to question Duke Energy personnel. Instead, members of Duke Energy's transmission line team were set up at tables, each table with the same information and the same video clips of transmission lines catching trees on fire. The transmission line work is scheduled to start around the middle of February.
Bill Eckard, a member of the Lindley Park Neighborhood Association, said, "This isn't what I expected." He and others said they had been expecting a chance to ask Duke Energy representatives questions about residential properties.
Charlotte Oleynik, also a resident of Lindley Park, said the workshop was "like a cocktail party."
Gail Barger of the Westerwood Neighborhood Association said she was also surprised by the format of the workshop. She said she wasn't concerned about clearing around transmission lines.
Duke Energy employed a classic format that the City of Greensboro often uses to try to keep opposition to a project from coalescing. The purpose is to divide and conquer. It keeps people who oppose a project from finding out that others agree with them.
Residents didn't swarm city hall in December demanding the city take action against Duke Energy because of trimming around transmission lines, which typically doesn't affect residential property.
Montgomery said that Duke Energy has no immediate plans to go forward with cutting on Collier Drive, which is much more of a concern for residents than transmission lines running through Lindley Park – the park, not the neighborhood.
Talking about Collier Drive, Montgomery said, "It's not on our radar right now." He said Duke Energy was working on their agreement with the city.
Montgomery said before line clearing in a residential neighborhood Duke Energy would meet with city staff 60 days in advance. They would meet again 15 days later to discuss a more detailed plan. Then 30 days before the start of cutting they would offer opportunities for community meetings.
That timeline represents a dramatic change from Duke Energy's communication process just a few months ago. Residents in neighborhoods like Westerwood were given door hangers, with no contact information, just three days before the drastic cuttings started. Some residents said they didn't get a door hanger.
At a neighborhood meeting Dec. 13, following the Westerwood and Sunset Hills clear cutting, Duke Energy representatives refused to consider lengthening their notification time to even three weeks.
But if representatives of Duke Energy think the controversy is going away because homeowners get 30 days' notice instead of three days' notice that their yards are going to be clear cut, they've missed the point. People want some kind of an appeals process, not just notification.