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July 19, 2012

Aieeeeeeeeee!!! Not In *MY* Back Yard!!!!!

Un.believable.

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.

If you think this is bad, imagine the reaction when PEPCO requests a rate hike to cover their lost revenue and the added expense of bringing in crews from all over the United States to restore power after the last storm? We're guessing it will sound something like this:

If you're beginning to worry that the situation is getting out of hand, don't. This gentleman is from the government, and he's here to help:

Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) [Admit it - you're shocked...] 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.

But wait - just when you think the existential angst can't get any more over the top, there's this:

“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.”

"I HATE PEPCO???" We can understand hating terrorists, or kitten bouncers, or Madonna but the guys who just worked around the clock to get our power back on? Really? The Editorial Staff take consolation in the thought that if the bill passes, the more vocal of these twits will be inspired to become human shields (thus delivering The Old Growth of Chevy Chase from the uncaring, specie-ist chainsaws and recklessly human centric folly of these ignorant, Gaia raping, Patriarchal Hegemonist Bastards).

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
No sooner is power restor'd,
But there springs forth some new distress.
To see Auld Growth used so savagely! 'Tis passing hard,
As evidenced by the plaintive cry: "Not in MY backyard"!

– Alexander Dope, An Essay on Disgruntled Consumers

Posted by Cassandra at July 19, 2012 05:05 PM

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I cut out a part, and had a ceremony for it,” Campbell said. “I burnt it as part of an offering.

Of course, in her egotistical misery wallowing, she wholly ignores the fact that the cherry tree which she so brutally mutilated needed to go into the forest's hummus [sic] completely intact, else it could not reincarnate as a telephone pole.

An obvious-to-me solution to the immediate problem would be to bury the power lines. I can hear the hue and cry, though, over all that digging in their precious, beautifully manicured lawns and streets.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 19, 2012 06:18 PM

I've always thought that the power line guys took a perverse pleasure in lopping off, willy-nilly, the limbs of trees deemed to be in their way. There's never any bother with arboreal health or aesthetics, it's just chain saw party. Forty, fifty years of beauty and growth butchered in an instant by a twenty year-old lunkhead in a hard hat and, as the lady in the article said, there's not a damn thing that you to stop them. Pity.

Posted by: spd rdr at July 19, 2012 06:51 PM

Except have them trimmed yourself *before* they cause a problem.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 19, 2012 07:52 PM

It's always struck me as nuts that so many trees are planted exactly underneath the lines. I hate to see them butchered, too, but what the heck is the alternative? Other than to plant them in more suitable locations. It's like building sandcastles and then railing against the tide.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 19, 2012 08:16 PM

"I cut out a part, and had a ceremony for it,” Campbell said. “I burnt it as part of an offering."

Little Orcs.


The Shadow lies on Fangorn. Or maybe my poor brothers were simply, ah... what this fellow said.

Posted by: Treebeard at July 19, 2012 08:46 PM

An obvious-to-me solution to the immediate problem would be to bury the power lines. I can hear the hue and cry, though, over all that digging in their precious, beautifully manicured lawns and streets.

Bingo.

I've always thought that the power line guys took a perverse pleasure in lopping off, willy-nilly, the limbs of trees deemed to be in their way. There's never any bother with arboreal health or aesthetics, it's just chain saw party.

Well, I have a different perspective.

I don't live in Potomac (our house would cost a cool 1 million there) but I drove back and forth from here to there once or twice a day for an entire week. Over an hour from where I *do* live (before and after work) and one hour back, trying to keep an ailing relative going. And then the time to fill up the generators, drive out to a place with power and working gas stations, drive back.

I'm out well over a thousand bucks, and that's not counting gasoline or other expenses. That's just one or two big ticket items. Because people can't be bothered to maintain trees growing on their property.

Trees were down everywhere - lying on power lines, torn up by the roots, you name it. And a week later, I can't recall more than one or two homeowners who had moved as much as a twig or done ANYTHING about downed trees on their property. Apparently, other people take care of these things for them. Must be nice.

I used to live in a freaking forest. At least once a year we paid to have tree surgeons come out and limb up or remove trees that endangered either my house, or my neighbors' house, or the road we lived on. We had a budget for tree maintenance: that's the price of living in the woods. We removed two enormous dead trees just in the last year we lived there.

I also paid to have a tree removed on a neighbors' property because it was rotten and about to fall on my house. Or theirs. And they couldn't afford to do anything about it. But someone had to.

So I guess I take a dim view of well to do, NIMBY folks who make 3 times what we do, but can't be bothered to take care of trees on their own property. They want their power to run all the time, but don't want to let the power companies do their job.

The thing is, if you have trees on your property that are planted near the power line, it's YOUR responsibility to keep them trimmed up. Think of it as your civic duty, because if that tree on their property takes out the power for an entire street, you may be putting someone else's life in danger.

There are people who can't just go to a hotel because they're bedridden. Or old. Or just not as well off as you are. We drove into that neighborhood every day and most homeowners had left. Not everyone could do that, though.

So I don't think PEPCO employees enjoy having to fight with homeowners to keep the power lines clear of falling trees and tree limbs when the truth is, it's the homeowner's job to keep the trees on their property away from the power lines.

Posted by: Cass at July 19, 2012 09:20 PM

"The thing is, if you have trees on your property that are planted near the power line, it's YOUR responsibility to keep them trimmed up."

It amazes me that one needs to say that to adults.

I also know about making regular payments to tree sturgeons. I think I've covered a few semesters at University for a couple of their spawn.

At this time the Hun hovel is no longer threatened by the random, yet almost annual, pine-tree drop. When we first moved in, one mature pine tree would fall close to the hovel almost every year. One hit a glancing blow to the roof over the MB one year. I figured that was a sign from The Master Arborists of the Universe, warning me... And since the pines were not the nice long leaf yellow pine variety anywho, I felled the rest of em. In their place I've planted a bunch of ornamental trees. Dogwoods, Japanese Maples and Japanese Tulip trees, Redbuds, Leyland Cypress, Yoshino Cherry, Rose of Sharron, etc. Two and a half decades later, Hunville pines no mo.

The hardwoods within falling distance of the hovel are inspected and manicured ≈ once every year or so. And we have buried power lines too, so there are no worries of interrupting my neighbors electron flow.

Now this spring we had to drop one very large, very old hardwood due to a carpenter ant infestation. At least we wound up with a huge pile of wood chips for mulching the flower beds. Bloody Orcs...

Posted by: bthun at July 19, 2012 11:33 PM

I have to admit that I also have a certain resentment of the power company over the tree issue.

We own our land outright, house too, but there are two limits on the sovereignty I exercise over my domain. The first is the law, which I understand (within limits); but the other one is the power company. They are not a government entity, but they can come onto my property at any time, destroy my property without permission, and mandate that I not use my property in certain ways (e.g., building a garage for the motorcycles if it interferes with where they want to put the meter).

I appreciate access to power, of course, but I'm not quite sure why things are this one sided. There's a monopoly, so either you accept their terms or you live without electricity. But the price of operating a monopoly is usually pretty intense regulation; yet there are remarkably few consumer protections against their authority.

Having said all that, I agree with spd that it is a shame to see an old tree cut for a power line that could easily be routed around it (or under it). But I also agree with you, Cass, that it's poor form to rail at people who've been working all night to get your air conditioning back on during 107 degree weather. Those guys deserve to have some slack cut if anybody does.

We live in a forest too, at least up here on the hill -- the lower part of the property is pasturage. I cut my own trees, for firewood as well as to remove dead trees that are dangerous, and as you say it takes a certain amount of time and money to do that. There's no 'civic duty' issue here, because the only power line that comes up to my house is the one that feeds my house; but it's an important responsibility of a landowner all the same.

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2012 11:40 PM

On the subject of those mean old electrical suppliers, I'm reminded that every so many years we receive a check from SMECO, for a couple or a few bucks.

We've not lived in Souther Maryland in, well, forever, but for some reason they think I'm still a member of their co-op. With a mailing address in Jawja! That's pretty weird, eh?

Posted by: bthun at July 19, 2012 11:42 PM

Yeah, bthun, we lost a bunch of trees last year -- five big ones, to carpenter ants and a fungus that is affecting the local oaks. It was sad, but I turned part of them into raised flower beds for the wife, and the rest into firewood that kept us warm all winter.

Posted by: Grim at July 19, 2012 11:48 PM

I hear ya Grim, I truly hate to see mature trees, other than scrub pines, come down.

The drought has been tough on lots of growing things.

The herd of ungulates living in the hollow thickets close by have been forced to subsist on the bush beans in our kitchen garden this summer.

A couple of the fawns from the tribe have a more refined taste. That would be for the neighbors flowers, petunias and such.

Rascals! Who knew they liked beans? I wonder if they'd like a little bacon or a ham bone with em?

I'd probably guilt my way into feeding them feed corn again, if the corn did not produce a squirrel population explosion in addition to feeding the local deer herd. I suppose I could put more honeysuckle plants out.

Squirrels... Hmm... Note to self: Pick up brick of .22 LR for...

Posted by: bthun at July 20, 2012 12:16 AM

My dog brought me a deer not long ago. Like a cat does, he killed it and drug it to the front porch. He was sitting right there next to it when I came home, looking as pleased with himself as I've ever seen him.

Posted by: Grim at July 20, 2012 12:37 AM

I just want to thank you for posting that crazy tree hugger video again. I'd forgotten all about that.

Posted by: Sig at July 20, 2012 01:07 AM

"Posted by: Grim at July 20, 2012 12:37 AM"

What a good boy! Bringing home the baco, er venison, and leather, and hair for trout flies, etc., etc. etc...

Posted by: bthun at July 20, 2012 10:27 AM

I just want to thank you for posting that crazy tree hugger video again. I'd forgotten all about that.

It never gets old, does it? :)

Posted by: Cass at July 20, 2012 10:50 AM

My dog brought me a deer not long ago. Like a cat does, he killed it and drug it to the front porch. He was sitting right there next to it when I came home, looking as pleased with himself as I've ever seen him.

When we lived in the high desert, Sausage used to bring me birds. While I can't say I was properly appreciative of his hunting prowess, I thoroughly enjoyed his obvious pride.

He was a workin' dog, donchaknow :p

Posted by: Cass at July 20, 2012 10:52 AM

...I agree with spd that it is a shame to see an old tree cut for a power line that could easily be routed around it (or under it).

"Easily"? How do we know it would be easy? Or feasible from a cost perspective?

How many trees should we route power lines around? When does the cost to everyone else outweigh the aesthetic considerations? How much time should companies have to spend negotiating?

And finally, why assume that they aren't already thinking about these things?

I agree it's a shame when trees have to be trimmed or felled, but... tradeoffs.

Posted by: Cass at July 20, 2012 10:58 AM

Easements are tricky things. We get used to have the free run of them, and then it's shocking when the easement owner comes and collects his rights. But the easement was right there on the plat when we bought the property.

We don't own our mineral rights here. I got a real shock a few years ago when it seemed possible that someone would get permission from the mineral rights owner to develop oil or gas on our property. I knew it was possible legally, but I'd never thought through how unpleasant it would be to see trees cleared. And we wouldn't even get any money for it! The horror!

Posted by: Texan99 at July 20, 2012 11:11 AM

When does the cost to everyone else outweigh the aesthetic considerations?

When does the cost to everyone of not doing it outweigh the cost of trees falling on power lines? Tradeoffs indeed.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 20, 2012 03:28 PM

Our power company tells us that they "own" the easements that are part of our property line, and therefore, they can cut the trees down at will.

The trees were under the power lines, and not easy to remove, but the power company, for all they 'owned' the easement, said we owned the trees, and would happily charge us $600 to remove them.

We removed them ourselves, at the cost of a day and 1/2 gallon of gas for the chain saw, and some sweat equity.

Posted by: Gimlet, son of Groin at July 20, 2012 06:16 PM

A propos this whole discussion, we here in Plano just had a powerful storm coalesce out of the æther and crap on us for about a half hour, beginning with hard rain and a wind blowing it horizontally; the rain was so dense it was hard to see across the street from my office window. That stage lasted about five minutes; the whole storm included two power failures.

And tree damage. Lots of trees in the neighborhood had major limbs broken and some trunks broken. These aren't old growth trees, but they're mature. My maple suffered the first serious damage of its 13-year life in these storms.

Two things are relevant here. The first is that our power lines are all buried; no falling trees or high winds are going to damage them. The power failures are because CoServ (and its predecessor in the area, El Paso Electric) are third world utility companies.

The other thing is that within a couple of hours after the storm evaporated back into the æther, the city had tree crews cruising the streets cutting out and otherwise getting down onto the ground all the widow maker limbs and trunk sections that were still hung in the tree canopies.

And as I pulled down the one broken limb from my maple, a nearby crew interrupted what they were doing to help me cut up the limb so I could stack it for another city service to come by "in about a week" to pick up all of our fallen and cut up limbs.

Still the homeowner's responsibility to deal with this stuff, but it's nice to have city help, too.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at July 20, 2012 10:06 PM

" Still the homeowner's responsibility to deal with this stuff, but it's nice to have city help, too."

True enough... I've come to realize that the nice meter pegs on 11, in a warms the soul sorta way, when a friend or two just show up with their chainsaws. That's happenened to me a time or two, way back when, before I decided to cut down all the pines around the hovel.

Nowadays I try to pay that sense of warmed over soul forward... At least when the exoskeleton suspended carcass allows. It seems to be a better buzz than beer...

Posted by: bthun at July 20, 2012 11:30 PM

Actually this comes under the heading of people who have difficulty (or simply can't) realize the realtionship between cause and effect. They simply can't recognize or accept that their decisions are not without consequences, consequences that they may not like.

Posted by: Clayton Yendrey at July 21, 2012 01:49 PM

One additional comment that I will make, is that HOA's are also contributory to problems like this (although that doesn't seem to be the case here).
I've live the majority of my life in South Texas, where tall trees are typically not much of a problem. However, two years ago, I was transferred to HQ, located in Houston. Purchased a home north of town - the entire subdivision is covered in large trees. I observed several in our yard that I had concerns about, one obviously dead. As it turned out, the HOA has specific rules about what the land/home owner can do, and removing tress is a No-No, or doing anything that could be percieved as changing the forest like character of the subdivision. Obviously dead trees are OK, as long as the HOA is notified. However, anything larger than 3" in diameter has to be submitted to the HOA for approval and even trimming has to demonstrate that there was an observable risk to home or other property. I'm actually amazed that more tree damage to home/powerlines doesn't occur. And don't get me started about $*$$(*!@##$ sweet gum trees...

Posted by: Clayton Yendrey at July 21, 2012 01:57 PM

An easement is not the same as title to the real estate. It's just a right to use the strip of property for some purpose, normally conferring no duties of any kind on the easement-holder.

The landowner has concurrent rights to use the strip. He usually is permitted to plant things there, for instance, and typically does, but his rights are subject to the right of the easement holder to require the plants not to interfere in whatever the easement is for. In the case of power lines, that means "Grow away, landowner, but it's up to you to keep the trees out of the lines. If we have to do it, we may not be very aesthetic about it, and we can charge you."

I've never seen an easement that gave the easement holder the duty to come and do anything, except maybe give prior notice.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 21, 2012 04:52 PM

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