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Lakewood Residents Aren't Signing On to Oncor's Tree-Trimming Contract

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Published July 12, 2010 By MICHAEL E. YOUNG

 

When Oncor announced a pilot program for the Lakewood area of Dallas that would lessen the sometimes shocking trims the electric provider performs to trees along its transmission lines, homeowners and arborists cheered the change.

SONYA N. HEBERT/DMN

An Asplundh work crew trimmed back tree limbs near power lines in March. Oncor has responded to complaints about unkind cuts with a program in which residents' trees get more room but must be maintained by a certified arborist.

So why hasn't anyone signed a contract with Oncor that would reduce the usual 10-foot, 4-inch clear-cutting by utility lines to a more aesthetically pleasing seven feet?

Apparently, there are lots of reasons.

"The contract puts all of the liability on the homeowner," complained Lakewood resident Jeri Huber, whose 150-year-old pecan tree was chopped back by almost half. "It says something to the effect that if your tree grows an inch past the seven-foot minimum, Oncor can come back and sue you and then you have to pay to have it trimmed to 10-4."

Bob Weiss may still be the first property owner to complete a contract with Oncor – but he still has a few questions and needs to meet with a qualified arborist.

"Until just a short time ago, Oncor didn't even have a list of who was line-certified" to keep trees trimmed seven feet back from lines, he said.

Even arborists have questions and concerns.

"The agreement is onerous," added Steve Houser of Arborilogical Services in Dallas, one of the four companies on Oncor's list of line-certified contractors.

"No one has yet to sign a contract, and I don't know if I blame them," Houser said. "They have to spend money for a company coming out at least once a year to maintain that seven-foot distance. That's at least a few hundred dollars, depending on the size of the tree."

Oncor officials still tout the program, which was announced May 18.

"For us, this is a great program because we wouldn't be cutting back as far as we usually do, that 10-4 clearance," said Oncor spokeswoman Jeamy Molina. "And then the homeowner can have their own arborist shape the trees in the shape they want.

"We'll cut that seven-foot 'make-safe' area so anyone who works around the lines will have enough distance from the wires," Molina added, "and then the qualified line-clearance contractor comes in to maintain that distance."

But even the contractors aren't certain what that means, Houser said.

"Suppose you're talking about a live oak tree, which grows about six inches in a year," he said. "If we come out a year after Oncor trims it, all we're doing is cutting off six-inch sprouts."

But six inches of growth means the tree is now past its Oncor limit. Does that mean the property owner is in violation of the contract?

"We're telling our clients it appears we'd need to come once a year," Houser said. "But the way the contract reads, there are still a lot of questions."

Weiss, who has a live oak tree in his backyard that is "undoubtedly tied up with Oncor's 7,200-volt line, and on the 240-volt line to the house," sees a benefit in trimming the tree back just seven feet, rather than 10 feet.

For one thing, subsequent annual trimmings will mean much less stress on the tree, Weiss said – certainly less stress than Oncor's trims, which some Lakewood homeowners said were at least several years apart. One estimated that the last tree-cutting by Oncor came at least eight years ago.

So far, though, Weiss said his discussions with Oncor have been "fair."

"They're trying to balance good, green trees with reliable electrical service," he said. "I think that's something we all want."

But Lakewood resident Sandy Megahan found Oncor anything but fair.

"If Oncor decides you've violated the agreement, they'll trim and charge you and can sue you for damages," she said. "The agreement is ridiculous. The whole thing is a sham."

So Megahan waits for the trimming crews to show up and worries what they'll leave behind.

"I'm just upset because of my trees," she said. "One is a rare water oak that doesn't really grow in Dallas. It's about 75 years old. And I have a 100-year-old American elm."

Both have grown considerably since the last time Oncor trimmed, she said.

"I asked Oncor, 'Don't we pay you enough to trim more often and trim less?' " Megahan said. "And they said, 'No.'

This is a follow-up article to Michael E. Young's article "Oncor Pilot Programs Give Dallas Customers a Say in Tree Pruning" published May 27, 2010.

About the author

Mr. Michael E. Young

Mr. Young is a reporter for The Dallas Morning News.

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