Thursday, March 4, 2021

Remember when Greensboro mayor Nancy Vaughan went after Duke Energy over tree trimming around power lines?

"Greensboro leaders, residents take on Duke over trees

...It was a David-and-Goliath battle between residents in several communities scattered across Greensboro who were outraged at what they said were extreme tree trimming practices by Duke Energy to protect power lines.

...At-large Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan, who several residents said had championed their cause, said a meeting between herself, Mayor Robbie Perkins, Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson, city staff and Duke Energy on Dec. 21 had been fruitful.

Nancy Vaughan, who got a restrictive tree trimming ordinance passed, 
is now wondering why fix it crews can't get to downed power lines
caused by trees falling over power lines, 
a situation which she led the charge to create an environment 
in which more downed trees would cause larger, longer outages

...Residents took their concerns to the city after several meetings with Duke Energy proved to be unproductive, they said, and they have been thrilled with the city council’s rapid and supportive response. While some are hopeful that the work team will be able to come up with solutions that residents will get behind, others are concerned it won’t go far enough or move quickly enough to prevent further cuts.

...Duke Energy agreed to temporarily suspend its line-maintenance work that entails cutting branches it says threaten power lines after the city council demanded the company cease and desist to provide time for discussion.

Gail Barger, the community watch chair in Westerwood who has been outspoken on the issue, said she hopes the city will pass a tree ordinance that would force Duke Energy to modify its practices enough to protect older trees, some of which she said have been around for 100 years.

...District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny, who represents Westerwood and Fisher Park, said he felt similarly.

“In some cases Duke has done kind of a hack job,” Matheny said. “It’s about keeping the green in Greensboro; it beautifies our city.

...Vaughan also said modifying the rules Duke is required to abide by on a state level might be necessary.

“They are changing the characters of homes and neighborhoods,” she said. “As a city we need to perhaps contact the utilities commission and see if we can perhaps get the tree-trimming plan changed.”

Greensboro, Duke Energy attempt to sort out tree ordinance

It’s been months since community outrage at Duke Energy’s tree trimming line maintenance work boiled over, but Greensboro Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan said the e-mails haven’t stopped.

“People certainly are still very passionate about this issue,” Vaughan said.

...Council established a work team including residents, city staff and representatives of Duke Energy to try and hammer out a tree ordinance that all parties would find agreeable and that would protect against what many residents said were extreme cuts. Vaughan, who chairs an ad-hoc council subcommittee on trees, said things have progressed.

...Vaughan said after the meeting that one of the most important aspects of improved communication wasn’t between Duke Energy and residents, but between Duke and Asplundh. Without a change in practice, forewarning of residents wouldn’t constitute enough change.

...A draft ordinance that has been passed between Greensboro City Attorney Mujeeb Shah-Khan and Kendrick Fentress, an associate general counsel for Duke, included a proposed four-year trimming cycle but was rejected by Duke as unnecessary and possibly illegal. Duke Energy currently trims about every 10 years, and proponents of the change say the more frequent trimming would lead to less severe cuts.

...Vaughan and other council members are interested in modeling Greensboro’s ordinance after Raleigh’s and extending provisions to protect trees to private property...

...“From what I read, Duke Energy is a very profitable company so it really depends on how they choose to treat their customers,” Vaughan said. “We all want to make money, but at what expense?”

...After a major ice storm in 2002, when fallen trees and branches caused widespread power outages, Layne said the NC Utilities Commission recognized that restrictive tree ordinances led to longer power outages."

 "Greensboro tree ordinance beginning to bud

...Cusimano said branch trimming would sometimes require a limb to be completely removed rather than cutting a third off the end — Duke’s general practice on the books — for the health of the tree, while Vaughan said aesthetics needed to be considered and that it should be up to the property owner.

...Cusimano said homeowners shouldn’t be able to override biology and that he would be bound by professional standards in appeals. He said he has a professional responsibility to stick to trimming practices that would be most biologically sound for the tree, and Vaughan questioned whether the appeal should go to someone who was more of a neighborhood advocate.

“I was not happy with the answers I heard with the appeals process,” Vaughan said immediately after the meeting.

...The need for large debris removal would likely decrease with the new trim standards, Montgomery said. In some cases Duke Energy has removed trees when cuts are severe enough to warrant it, but the ordinance will give property owners the option to keep the tree in almost all instances, Montgomery said, further decreasing debris removal needs.

Duke Energy opposes the plan for appeals to go from the commission on the status of trees after passing through the urban forester’s office because it wasn’t an impartial body like the utility commission, Montgomery said. Vaughan said she hoped the appeals process could be worked out with Duke within the ordinance rather than sent to the utilities commission separately, but Montgomery said discussions on the issue had already reached an impasse."
"Greensboro passes tree ordinance

The city has a new tree ordinance that limits trimming by utility companies.

The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance Tuesday, giving residents more protection from what some characterized as overzealous trimming by Duke Energy.

“I think it’s a large improvement,” said Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan, who was the chairwoman of a committee that addressed the issue and worked closely with community activists.

...At issue: complaints of over-trimming by Duke Energy, which the N.C. Utilities Commission gives the authority to cut tree limbs that could interfere with power lines.

...The new ordinance applies to the entire city. Separately, Duke Energy has agreed to modify how it trims trees in parts of the city with older, lower voltage power lines.

Duke maintains that the more limited the company is in its ability to trim tree branches, the more — and more sustained — power outages the area will experience during winter and major storms.

...Under the new city ordinance, utility companies do not have to remove tree limbs larger than 6 inches in diameter.

It will allow the city to ask — with a single phone call — for work on tree trimming to stop, will extend the city’s power to stop Duke Energy from trimming on public and private property.

“Overall, definitely a substantial improvement,” Vaughan said."