PG&E gets OK to cut pines

‘Reliability program’ allows utility to drop trees that are deemed hazardous to people, electric production

ktanner@thetribunenews.comApril 25, 2013 

County Code Enforcement has given PG&E permission to remove five “hazardous” Monterey pine trees in Cambria as part of the utility’s periodic “reliability program” of trimming and removing vegetation that could interrupt electrical service and pose a hazard to people and property.

However, Mother Nature has already taken care of one of those trees on a vacant Pineridge Drive lot near Ellis Avenue and Bradford Road. On April 15, high winds toppled the tree, which fell across Pineridge. The resulting outage lasted about an hour for 754 customers, but 79 of those were out of electricity for about 10 hours.

Another tree to be removed under the reliability program remains standing — for now — on the same lot.

The reliability project also includes trimming, due to start next week on another 11 trees, many of them in the Top of the World neighborhood of Lodge Hill. They include pines on Pineridge, Burton, Berwick, Pierce, Spencer Street, Orville Avenue, and a Monterey cypress on London Lane, near Green Street.

Collaboration

As part of PG&E’s “collaborative effort” to manage vegetation near its lines, representatives have worked with the county, discussed the plan on March 13 with the Cambria Forest Committee and contacted landowners, or been trying to contact them, “about vegetation hazards on their property that can impact public safety, private-property owners’ own safety and the reliability of the electrical supply,” said Blair Jones, PG&E spokesman.

As of April 23, utility representatives had contacted two of those private customers, and were trying to reach the others by phone, letters and in person “to inform them of the hazards and work collaboratively with them,” Jones said.

Some Cambria property owners, especially those who own vacant lots, live out of town or the state.

Work starts soon

The reliability trimming and cutting is to start during the week of April 29, Jones said. The same contractor, Davey Tree, is also doing regular maintenance work along the power lines, and has been for some time.

The overlapping schedules can cause confusion for area residents and landowners.

While maintenance trimming and tree removals are done annually along all PG&E lines, the sometimes more intensive reliability work often is done in specific neighborhoods, usually in areas that have had frequent power outages due to fallen trees and other vegetation problems.

Many Cambria power outages are triggered by falling trees and branches.

Problems from vegetation hitting power lines extend beyond the occasional brief power outage that irritates TV watchers, worries those with food in refrigerators and freezers, restricts businesses’ opportunities to do business and inconveniences nearly everybody.

As Jones pointed out, a tree that contacts a power line could trigger sparks and a fire, which could spread to nearby properties and structures. A falling tree could injure or kill someone. Power to private water pumps and sewage sumps can be affected (the Cambria Community Services District has backup generators for municipal services). And power outages can be crucial for people who rely on electric-powered medical equipment for health, breath and even life itself.

Concerns

However, removal of any trees in Cambria triggers concern and usually requires special permission and permits, along with replacement plantings of more trees than were removed.

The town’s landmark native stand of Monterey pines is protected, being one of only three remaining such stands on the U.S. mainland and one of only five in the world. In part because of that, planners and state regulators consider nearly the entire community to be “environmentally sensitive habitat area.”

Questions were being raised by concerned citizens as soon as the foresters began contacting property owners.

As Lynne Harkins of Cambria wrote in an email to The Cambrian, “It seems hard to believe that they aren’t having a significant impact on the forest.” She said the new project is in a neighborhood “designated ‘Special Projects Area 2,’ a designation she said acknowledges the environmental value of the Monterey pine forest there.

2012 reliability program

Chief code enforcer Art Trinidade issued authorization April 6 for the latest Cambria reliability program. He wrote to PG&E forester Greg Saenz that Trinidade had found the trees in question met the “standards of hazardous trees and may be removed.”

Other pines left to be removed are: the remaining tree on Pineridge; one on Burton Drive near Berwick Drive, and two on county property on Pierce Avenue near Merlyn Avenue.

PG&E must replace each removed tree with two seedlings grown from Cambria seed stock. The forest committee must approve the location; the plantings don’t have to be done in the areas where the trees were removed.

2009 reliability program

The collaborative effort evident in this year’s reliability program was not as much a part of a similar but much larger effort in 2009. That PG&E program to remove 88 trees triggered: substantial community outcry, including from members of the forest committee; many meetings (some of them acrimonious); and a county requirement that the utility get an after-the-fact county permit to cover the work.

As part of that permit, PG&E had to plant the 250 replacement trees. Local arborist Blair McCormick finished that work recently on the Clyde Warren ranch on San Simeon Creek Road.

That site was selected, Jones said, because the “location was appropriate, it was available and the owner was willing,” a combination that was difficult to find, given the number of trees involved.

PG&E “has a plan in place to maintain and monitor those trees,” he said, as it will for the replacement trees for the 2013 project. 

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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