Duke has the power when it comes to tree trimming

September 17, 2013 

Richard Anstine, in his Sudbury Lane yard, has worked with Duke Energy to try to save some of his trees from power line trimming.

TOM HARTWELL

— Crape myrtles draw butterflies to the backyard of 116 Sudbury Lane, and deer make their home beneath tall hardwood trees.

Richard Anstine, a manager at Harris Teeter, and his wife, Fran Allegri, who works at UNC’s health sciences library, sat on their back porch one evening and told each other, “We’ll always have this view.”

Then Duke Energy crews turned up this summer to clear growth along its power lines.

“It seems the rules on the power company right-of-way have changed significantly since the last time the clearing was done,” Fran Allegri said.

A handful of trees that were spared last time would have to come down, and not because they had grown taller. Duke Energy was asserting its right to clear trees an extra 16 feet past its 68-foot right-of-way (centered at the power poles behind their house in Fair Oaks).

“Those are big lines,” Anstine said, acknowledging the need. “If those go down, it’s not going to be a couple hundred people that lose their power.”

It would be thousands in the dark, a Duke Energy foreman confirmed. They are called transit lines, strung between tall pylons that connect power plants to substations.

“Within our transmission corridors, we don’t like to have trees of any species that have a mature height greater than 15 feet, so we talk with property owners about what they can plant or can’t plant within that right-of-way,” said Duke foreman Corey Meadows, a certified arborist.

Duke Energy holds all the cards when it comes to tree trimming. The utility has the authority to protect the safety of the line, and spokeswoman Paige Layne said falling trees are not the only concern. High voltage can arc to branches that touch wires, and there are fire risks.

Still, the impact of clearing can be frustrating for homeowners.

“The current laws seem to largely protect the utility and do not allow individual homeowners, property owners and neighborhood associations much recourse,” said Steve Brantley, a Fair Oaks resident who has a “better” view of the unsightly power lines since crews cut down trees across his street.

Brantley, who is the county’s economic development director, said the power company called him back that same day, but he was not forewarned. The unobstructed view could bring his property value down, he said.

“There was no apparent notice, to the neighborhood association or to me personally, that they would be clearing trees,” Brantley said. “I said, well, what about the refuse when you’re done?”

Duke Energy is not required to clear away the debris.

“Some do appreciate it and can use it for firewood, others might want an 8 or ten-foot section they can move around or saw it into lumber,” Meadows said. “Ultimately, you are correct in stating that Duke does not haul off and remove wood that cannot be chipped.”

Duke Energy’s unilateral authority has caused the City of Greensboro to challenge the rules on debris cleanup, homeowner arbitration and frequency of the cutting cycle.

“We have very little, if any, regulatory authority over Duke outside of our own local zoning ordinances, and in some cases they may have exemptions,” Carrboro Town Manager David Andrews said.

Anstine said the only way his family was alerted were fresh blazes on a neighbor’s tree.

“With the lack of communication, you never know if you’re going to come home from work and find your trees gone,” Anstine said.

“We did contact Duke and they indicated they would contact the neighbors and work … to see which trees could stay and which would go,” Andrews said.

“We don’t have the statutory authority to require Duke to remove the fallen trees. We would like for them to, as a good neighbor.”

Hartwell: 504-251-6670

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