Power Lines, Cherry Trees, And NIMBY Nonsense

Last month’s sudden windstorm that caused many in the Washington, D.C. area to go without power in the middle of a massive heatwave has brought a lot of criticism directed at the local electric utility companies, especially PEPCO the company that services the District as well as a good part of Maryland’s D.C. suburbs. Pepco was slow in restoring power compared to other Maryland companies and the utility companies in Virginia, of that there’s no doubt. However, to be fair to the company, one of the reasons that PEPCO experiences problems so frequently is because the areas they serve, especially in Maryland, are older communities with above-ground power lines and the biggest enemy of power lines, trees. Logically, the one thing a utility company in such an area needs to do on a regular basis is trim the trees to minimize the damage from wind, snow, and ice storms breaking limbs and cutting lines. Well, PEPCO has spent the last week or so doing just that and the people of Montgomery County aren’t happy:

The big orange trucks emblazoned with the words “Tree Experts” rumbled into the neighborhood off Connecticut Avenue Tuesday with one mission, one target. Pepco had ordered them to slash limbs from the half-century-old Yoshino cherry trees that line the streets of Rock Creek Woods — part of the utility’s efforts to minimize frequent and sometimes lengthy power outages in Montgomery County.

As the men in hard-hats hacked away, Julie Marcis and her husband confronted the crew, pleading with them to stop ruining the trees.

“You feel like your insides are crumbling when you look at what they did,” Marcis said. “You have no control, you can’t do anything, short of throwing yourself in front of one of their trucks to stop them, which I considered.”

Like so many other Washingtonians, Rock Creek Woods residents were already furious with Pepco for the multiple days they endured without power during a relentless heat wave a few weeks back. Now neighbors here are angry over Pepco’s tactic to prevent future outages: the slicing and dicing of much-beloved Yoshino cherry trees.

The outrage in Rock Creek Woods and elsewhere in Maryland signifies the conundrum faced by Pepco: People get mad when trees fall on power lines and cause long outages. But residents also rage when they feel Pepco prunes too aggressively and spoils their neighborhood’s aesthetic charms.

“Pepco’s not doing their job of delivering power, but this is not going to solve our problems either,” said Rock Creek Woods resident Sue Holbeck, a cancer researcher at the National Institutes of Health who called the tree trimming “a PR effort.”


Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) is so alarmed about aggressive tree pruning that he recently proposed a bill that would require utilities to make a “reasonable attempt” to notify property owners of tree trimming and to provide them with a “customer bill of rights.” Berliner’s bill would also generally prevent trimming trees along rural roads or in county-marked historic areas.

So let me get this straight. You don’t want the electric company to cut down the trees that are overhanging the power lines in your neighborhoods, but you also want them to instantaneously get the power back on after the lines have been snapped because wind, snow, or rain, caused branches overhanging power lines to collapse and bring the power lines down with them. Seriously, what is wrong with these people?

Well, in some cases they’re just plain nuts:

“I feel pain in my chest,” said Val Campbell, a massage therapist who stopped her car in the middle of the road to talk with Marcis. “I try to be very accepting. But I feel hate. I normally do not feel hate. But I hate Pepco.”

“My head hurts,” Marcis said.

“I had a cherry tree that died about 10 years ago. I cut out a part, and had a ceremony for it,” Campbell said. “I burnt it as part of an offering. I was thinking of getting others in the community to do it, and have a healing ceremony.”

“Yes,” Marcis said, smiling. “We need healing.”

Good lord woman, they’re just trees.

And, hey, anyone want to guess how these people would react if PEPCO wanted to come through their neighborhoods digging up the street and their lawns to bury the lines and then increase rates to cover the costs? I think we know the answer.

FILED UNDER: Natural Disasters, , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Chad S says:

    As a Moco resident, Doug, you’re not getting some big facts right here:
    1-Pepco, according to their own claims, spent tens of millions of dollars “tree trimming” prior to the recent massive storm to no effect.
    2-they’ve been blaming “tress” for years and claiming that Moco/DC/PG have a large amount of trees. Not true, our tree cover is average.
    3-According to the union of their powerworkers, they have less then 30 crews qualified to reconnect power lines.

    They can cut down every tree in DC/PG/Moco, but if they don’t have enough crews to service their grid in a disaster, people will still be without power. They just don’t want to pay for enough workers to service a power outage, so they blame the trees.

  2. @Chad S:

    I’m not saying that PEPCO is without blame, but the people quoted in that article will be the first one’s screaming bloody murder the next time their power goes out. Just for their hypocrisy, they deserve to be the last ones to have their power restored.

  3. Chad S says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Who the fuck cares? Pepco is cutting away a lot of perfectly good trees(and clogging up an already slow traffic pattern by doing so) just so they can avoid hiring enough workers to do the job we’re paying them to do. Go punch hippies with something that matters.

  4. James Joyner says:

    We have the same issues in Northern Virginia. I’m shocked at how even minor storms will fell trees across the George Washington Parkway, for example, causing massive gridlock. That’s federal jurisdiction, alas, so even less likely to be proactively dealt with.

  5. @Chad S:

    So you’re basically saying trees don’t knock down power lines? Okay, got it.

    And, as I said in the post, their just trees. On balance I’ll sacrifice part of a tree to keep the a/c on in the summer and heat on in the winter

  6. DRS says:

    Doug, when exactly do you practice law? You always seem to be posting here during the day. I realize it’s none of my business but I am curious.

  7. JKB says:

    You don’t understand, Doug. PEPCO needs hire them some union workers to sit around and smoke cigarettes till there is a wind or snow storm, which, of course, will be when they’ll suddenly have bad backs.

    Oh, and do that without raising rates.

    Of course, if you don’t trim the trees, a tiny storm can knock down lines at hundreds of places so you’ll need thousands of standby linemen.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    If the people are unwilling to spend the money to underground the lines then they’re going to have to live with this stuff.

  9. JKB says:

    Actually, they don’t bury the power lines in the street, they’d use the easement. Which is where the poles are, right there in the front yard. And take down a lot of trees with the digging.

    Such an act, would probably mean war to these people.

    And why are these hippies releasing the carbon so magnificently sequestered in the form of wood back into the atmosphere? Their healing is causing global warming.

  10. Chad S says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Don’t put words in my mouth Doug and it would be nice if you responded to what I actually wrote. Pepco has been cutting down and trimming trees for years and it didn’t make any difference with the recent storm. The wind would still knock down power lines even if there’s no trees around them. The only way to keep power lines from getting knocked down(from trees or not) is to bury lines. Pepco uses the trees excuse so that they don’t have to hire workers.

  11. Chad S says:

    @JKB: They need to hire more then 30 workers who are qualified to reconnect downed lines. There were over 10000 downed lines or power lines in need of service in the recent storm. Do the math.

  12. wr says:

    People who love their trees and don’t want to see power company crews cutting them back in unsightly ways have an easy way around the problem — hire a good tree company and have them prun their trees so that they are aesthetically attractive, healthy, and not a threat to overhead lines. Yes, it costs a little money, but if the health of the tree is your main priority, that’s a place to spend.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    What al-meda said: if you want your lines buried (and I do) then you have to be willing to pay for it (and I am).

  14. John Thacker says:

    they’ve been blaming “tress” for years and claiming that Moco/DC/PG have a large amount of trees. Not true, our tree cover is average.

    I live in Howard County. I drive through MoCo a lot. Your tree cover seemed greater than average to me, especially around power lines, even before the storm.

    Of course, all we’re doing is trading anecdotes. This article is mostly anecdotal too, except for that bit about the MoCo County Commissioner calling for a law.