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.