Montgomery County requests Pepco replants lost trees
Maryland Public Service Commission to consider request this month
Charles Kauffman is used to looking down River Road and admiring Montgomery County's "park-like charm." But after crews trimmed and chopped trees along the road in Bethesda, all Kauffman can see is a graveyard.
"It's a radical assault on the environment for one thing, and it also is ugly," said Kauffman, 80, of Bethesda.
Kauffman views the loss as deforestation, and his concerns are echoed by a county request that Pepco be responsible for replacing trees it cuts down along street rights-of-way.
Pepco announced that "enhanced tree trimming" is one of the utility's top priorities in the reliability enhancement plan it outlined in September. The company has been criticized since early 2010 after a series of storms left thousands without power.
The utility was not sure if its crews were responsible for clearing trees on River Road.
In comments filed Feb. 17 in response to the Maryland Public Service Commission's proposed revision of state regulations on service provided by electric companies, Montgomery County asked that Pepco consider "a replacement process for removed trees in state, county, or municipal rights of way in keeping with the replacement policy currently utilized on private property."
The comments were composed from the recommendations of a 12-member group formed by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), said the county's Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Tom Street.
Pepco began offering a voucher for private homeowners who have had a tree removed by Pepco in late 2010, spokesman Bob Hainey said. The amount of the vouchers is worked out homeowners who are encouraged to plant a new tree where it would not interfere with power lines. Hainey said he did not know how many people received the vouchers or the process for customers to get a voucher.
A state permit is required to remove a tree in county or state rights-of-way, but Pepco is not responsible for replanting, Hainey said. Pepco obtained 95 tree removal permits in 2010 in Montgomery County.
Pepco's policy is to trim trees so that four years of growth will not interfere with overhead power lines, said Pat Byrne, Pepco's manager of vegetation management. The decision to cut down a tree is made if it is determined that more than 25 percent of the tree must be removed in accordance with tree industry standards.
"We're extremely environmentally sensitive to the community," Byrne said.
The Montgomery County Forest Conservation Advisory Committee also sent its comments to Leggett requesting that the county explore ways to replace street trees, committee chair Caren Madsen said. The comments were intended to be considered in Montgomery's comments to the Maryland Public Service Commission.
"Our committee has been concerned for some time with the loss of trees in the county right of way," said Madsen, who also chairs the environmental advocacy group Conservation Montgomery.
The county Department of Transportation budgeted $100,000 in fiscal 2011 to plant 650 trees in county rights-of-way as part of its street tree program, spokeswoman Esther Bowering said. About half of the trees have been planted so far.
Montgomery County also asked that Pepco's vegetation management standards include "provisions to ensure that enhanced pruning measures do not lead to tree death, widespread tree death or instability," and "enhancements to the arborist certification process to ensure that they are capable of safely instating these enhanced tree trimming measures without jeopardizing tree heath and stability."
While they must seek a separate permit for tree removal, Pepco has a blanket permit to trim trees in the county and state rights-of-way and all trimming is done under the supervision of a licensed Maryland tree expert, Byrne said. Pepco trimmed trees along 1,308 miles of power lines in the county in 2010 according to the current online progress report.
The Maryland Public Service Commission's rulemaking session on proposed reliability standards for electric companies is scheduled for March 24.