WatchSonoma Watch

County asks PG&E to avoid tree removal



PG&E has begun clearing some trees underneath power lines in Sonoma County. (PD FILE)

Sonoma County officials are urging PG&E to tread lightly when removing trees and brush in regional parks and open space district lands that are crossed by the utility’s high-voltage power lines.

“The safety and reliability of the transmission lines are the No. 1 priority, but I also believe that PG&E plans must mitigate the environmental impact this will bring forward for years to come,” Supervisor Mike McGuire said.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will ask PG&E to agree to remove trees only as a last resort, replace trees that are removed, develop erosion measures, guard against invasive plants and work with state agencies when working around waterways.

PG&E is halfway through a two-year Transmission Vegetation Management Plan to remove brush and trees and trim trees along high-voltage lines that stretch 39 miles from The Geysers to Petaluma.

The program is essential to removing any hazard that could cause the transmission lines to fall and create a power outage that would have a wide-scale impact.

It is also a program that has stirred some controversy.

Spokeswoman Brittany McKannay said the utility is working with property owners and will trim instead of cut down trees where possible, but it is on a case-by-case basis.

“There is no tolerance where a tree comes into contact with our high-voltage line,” McKannay said.

Critics contend that PG&E is pushing an agenda to clear-cut a swath under the power lines and has also run afoul of state Fish and Game regulations in the meantime.

“When they are left to their own devices, they are clear-cutting,” said Kathy Jaraczewski of Santa Rosa, a member of Save Our Sonoma Trees. “They are sensitive to the term, but when you go to a site where they have done the work, that is exactly what they have done.”

The utility is just now beginning work in Shiloh Regional Park and Sonoma Mountain Woodlands, which are regional parks, and Saddle Mountain Open Space Preserve and Coopers Grove, which are owned by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

“The taxpayers of Sonoma County have spent $32 million to protect and preserve these four properties over the past several years,” McGuire said. “I am very concerned this reclamation plan will leave lasting negative environmental impacts if we are not working together on a mitigation plan.”

McGuire said the goal is to get PG&E, which is regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission and state Legislature, to sign an agreement with the county to protect the county lands.

“My personal opinion is there should be a bias toward vegetation management versus tree removal, although I understand that there will have to be trees removed,” McGuire said.

McKannay said the utility has a $250,000 program to replant oak trees and will work with the county.

“What we want to do with the county is work with them on each site and each public space and talk about public concerns, whether it is environmental or appearance, while making sure we are keeping the areas safe around the high-voltage lines,” McKannay said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

9 Responses to “County asks PG&E to avoid tree removal”

  1. Garnet Red says:

    I’m just waiting to see if my 65 year old pecan tree will survive the butchering they gave it.. cutting the crown completely out and doing their work at the complete wrong time of year. Do the pg&e people hire the same cutters to do their own trees that they sic on the public?

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  2. Kirstin says:

    @GAJ, over time perhaps PG&E thinks chopping down trees is more cost-effective than having to trim them back more than once. My own observations are that PG&E would rather get a tree out of the way permanently than deal with it. But tough, PG&E. Do the right thing and leave the trees standing.

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  3. GAJ says:

    PG&E has proven itself to be very bottom line conscious…perhaps even TOO bottom line conscious!

    You do realize it costs more to fell and remove a tree than to trim it, right?

    PG&E has no motivation to chop down more trees than absolutely necessary…quite the opposite.

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  4. Reality Check says:

    Every time a winter storm knocks out power PG&E gets hammered for failing to cut away branches that threaten power lines. Of course when they cut away those branches the result isn’t pretty.

    Yes, they could trim a little every year. But then cost would be expensive. Let me know when TURN supports a rate increase to pay for this approach.

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  5. joseph donegan says:

    The land the Geysers power plants sits on belongs to the schools. 100% of the money collected goes straight to teachers retirement, not to the schools as it was intended. I say shut the lines down, turn off the money spigot and let the teachers fund their own retirement out of their own pockets instead of the children’s.
    The irony is of course if they do not cut the trees down, and a line arcs, the whole forest is lost. Amazing the way our community is connected to those power plants.

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  6. Kirstin says:

    There is no excuse for PG&E cutting down trees — especially when they are not immediately underneath power lines. TRIM them neatly and only as much as absolutely necessary, but DO NOT fell them. Trees are essential to good air, not to mention that they are a beautiful addition to the landscape here, and public utilities should not be permitted to wantonly cut them down on either public or private property.

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  7. Vinyl Rules says:

    PG&E is lying. The contention that PG&E is “working with property owners and will trim instead of cut down trees where possible” is simply a lie. PG&E’s official policy is to cut trees and ask questions later. They may have an easement on your property, but it stretches the bounds of such authority for them to decrease your property value by removing trees arbitrarily. Maybe when we have hundreds of miles of clear-cut forest people will care…

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  8. James Bennett says:

    They’re butchering trees not even near power lines. Why can’t they keep most all the trees in place and keep them manicured near the lines?

    PG&E is worth sooo much money.

    If we cut down a sick tree on our own property the fines are unbelievable.

    But that’s different…
    we’re not a Public-Private Partner.

    Bad move.

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  9. John Pendergast says:

    Dude, I don’t want my power going out every time a stiff breeze blows.

    This assumes that county officials know more about power line obstructions than the linemen who do their jobs every day. Oh great Sonoma County leaders! You bless us with your boundless wisdom every day! What would we do without you?

    Maybe these county people should shut their mouths and get the roads fixed.

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