Urban logger in Bethesda gathers Pepco's leftovers
Former county firefighter hopes to use tree debris to heat his home
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Richard Hoye, 55, of Bethesda is logging leftover tree debris with the goal of heating his home using wood and he is doing so on a tricycle.
What's more, Pepco, the region's primary electric utility is, in effect, supplying him with his fuel for free.
Using a $1,100 log arch attached to the back of his adult-sized tricycle, Hoye combs his Bethesda neighborhood almost every day scavenging wood left by tree crews. Pepco crews have been cutting trees throughout the county as part of a vegetation management plan designed to cut down on power outages caused by falling limbs.
"When they're gone we should honor them with a second life," Hoye said of the trees.
Hauling 500 to 600 pounds a trip with the arch a rolling machine used to lift and carry logs using leverage he estimates that he has brought three or four tons of oak and maple home on his tricycle since he began logging a month ago.
"I'm having so much fun with this tool; it's human power," said Hoye, a retired Montgomery County career firefighter who worked at stations in Bethesda, Rockville and Glen Echo.
Hoye has lived without a car for 15 years and gets around on his tricycle with a cargo bed attachment in which he often carries his two black Labrador retrievers, Liesl and Rudder. The tricycle is left over from a pedicab business Hoye partially owned and operated for two years in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Because so many trees are being cut as part of Pepco's vegetation management plan, Hoye is trying to collect five years worth of fuel. He plans to spend $5,000 to install a wood-burning stove in his home near Old Georgetown Road.
Hoye spends from $300 to $400 a month in the winter to heat his home using natural gas. He expects the savings from his gas bill to pay off the wood-burning stove in about five years, while helping to achieve his personal environmental goals.
"I know there won't be this much wood available every year," he said "So I'm trying to build up a few years' supply."
Hoye hauls away logs he finds along roadsides, stakes out trees marked for removal and even makes friends with tree-removal crews to get them to cut the logs to an ideal size for his tricycle carrier.
"What is happening is Pepco and homeowners are simply treating this valuable resource, both living and cut, as trash," Hoye said.
Large logs from trees removed by Pepco's contractor as part of preventative maintenance are taken to a facility in Prince George's County where they are ground into mulch, Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said. The mulch is available for free to residents who want to pick it up, while the rest is disposed of.
Pepco crews remove trees they cut unless a homeowner signs an agreement to keep the wood, Anderson said. The trees are not the property of Pepco, and the utility is not responsible if a person wants to take the logs, he said.
Tree debris collected by Montgomery County crews or contractors is taken to the Shady Grove Processing Facility and Transfer Station, spokeswoman Mary Anderson said. The wood is chipped and ground into mulch, which is either sold to commercial operations at $5.12 a ton or given to residents for free.
In fiscal 2010, the transfer station mulched 61,000 tons of debris, a jump from 40,000 tons in fiscal 2009 and 36,000 tons in fiscal 2008, Anderson said. The rise in fiscal 2010 may reflect cleanup from the heavy snowstorms last year.
Anderson said she was aware of no law that makes it illegal to take logs found in county rights-of-way.
Although Hoye is logging within a mile of his home off Old Georgetown Road, he plans to install an electric motor on the bike to extend his range. Hauling logs through Bethesda has raised some eyebrows, Hoye said, but has helped to spread his message, and even make him friends.
He met fellow wood enthusiast Chris Holmgren while out logging.
"It's seldom enough we see a log arch, let alone pulled by a bicycle going down Old Georgetown Road," said Holmgren, who met Hoye on the street.
Holmgren owns Seneca Creek Joinery in Dickerson where he reuses logs brought to him from tree companies, which he saws into lumber or crafts into furniture. He and Hoye have talked about advocating for wood-heat and furthering public interest in recycling wood.
"What Richard is doing is a good start and he is visible," Holmgren said. "A lot of people will think, Oh that weirdo on the bicycle,' but he's not paying what they are to heat their houses."