Utility tree trimming policies outrage homeowners
(Photo courtesy of Angie's List member David Andrew)
One Texas homeowner pulled a gun on a utility tree trimming crew during a storm last winter. Another parked his Hummer under a tree so crews couldn't trim it. "We've had to get restraining orders," says Jeamy Molina, spokeswoman for Oncor, the state's largest power company.
Texans are not alone in their frustration with utility tree-trimming practices. Nationwide, homeowners decry situations in which their private property — a tree — on private land, is radically cut or even removed without their consent when the utility company deems it a threat to power lines.
Public outrage in Indiana led to a 20-month investigation by the state's Utility Regulatory Commission. The upshot was an 111-page finding in November that mandates all state utilities follow standards for proper pruning as outlined by the International Society of Arboriculture, something the industry says it's already doing. Those standards support alternatives to topping as the best way to save the tree while also protecting the power line.
The Indiana commission says it found numerous examples of utility companies topping trees, but it doesn't have the authority to fine them. It began meeting Dec. 15 to hammer out how the ruling will be enforced.
Stephen R. Cieslewicz, president of CN Utility Consulting in California, is a retired utility arborist and helped write the ISA standards. "I'd be the first to admit trees that are pruned properly can end up looking like a 'V' or an 'L,'" he says. "[The pruning] really seems dramatic, but that's the correct way to do it."