Tree-sitters protest PG&E power line plans in Nevada City | TheUnion.com
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Tree-sitters protest PG&E power line plans in Nevada City

John Orona
Staff Writer

Graeme Pitts is in a tree.

He doesn’t know how long he’ll stay there or how much it will help, but for him the decision was a no-brainer.

“It was pretty easy for me to just be present to do what I can do. It’s an easy way for me to enjoy this tree while defending it,” Pitts said.

He’s been following PG&E’s plans to cut more than 250 trees in Nevada City that could interfere with power lines, and on Tuesday Pitts was ready to put his body on the line.

“I didn’t really have a plan, I just kind of climbed up into the tree for the time being. I do feel strongly about this… If they do it while I’m in the tree, ‘party on Wayne.’ I will gladly fall on a fool like Tarzan,” he said. “As many different methods as we’ve gone through trying to use the right channels, trying to do it the right way, it has been just squashed. They’re proving they don’t want to operate within the system, so we’re going to operate peacefully outside the system, too.”

On Tuesday close to two dozen demonstrators gathered around an 80-foot Atlas cedar on PG&E’s list for mitigation — tree No. 41 on the city’s historic district walking tour — hoping to ward off any cutting until an independent arborist can review the merit of PG&E’s claims that they are a danger to power lines.

“They think they’re doing the right thing, and more power to them, but it’s not the right thing for the area,” Pitts said. “We care about our forests being healthy, but it’s gotta be done the right way, not just whacking trees down.”

According to Matt Osypowski, who organized a petition and Facebook group to collectively push back against the company’s claims, protesters are hoping to target a handful of trees to save. Although they recognize some trees will have to go, PG&E’s approach here and in other communities has been heavy-handed, he said.

“Obviously the first priority is fire safety, we don’t want to see this town burn down, nobody does. But the solution cannot simply be to cut everything that is tall enough to hit a line,” Osypowski said. “PG&E has done nothing to justify our trust in them over the years. It’s so important having a third party who’s available to come in and work for the city, work for the citizens.”

According to Zeno Acton, an arborist hired by Nevada City to provide an independent assessment of the trees, some trees may have been interpreted as needing to be cut due to the presence of pests and diseases, though that may not necessarily be the case.

“One particular concern I noted is that the mere presence of some pests and diseases may have been inappropriately interpreted on some trees by PG&E contractors. The concern is that such an observation does not necessarily mean the tree is significantly weakened nor does that necessarily equate to an increased likelihood of failure,” the report states. “Legislation allows for the removal of diseased or infested trees but this needs to be tempered with knowledge of the site, the infecting agent and its effect on the host.”

Acton concluded of the 38 trees inspected, “I believe good faith conversations regarding retention could be had regarding 16 of the trees,” including the Atlas cedar.

Some protesters were upset that tree mitigation was the only option considered, when alternatives like undergrounding the lines have been continually pushed back.

“This has been funded to underground for years,” said Bob Nienaber, who lives down the street from the Atlas cedar. “We’re not saying you gotta underground every one of (the lines). But this is our community and we’re being told we have no say in it.”

Nevada City attorney Lorraine Reich said she is working to prepare documents to file an injunction seeking to prohibit the further cutting and removal of trees in Nevada City until there can be greater opportunity for the public and city to consider alternative options.

“After years and years and years of neglect on PG&E’s part that they’re now trying to compensate for with this aggressive and barbaric approach of clear cutting through large sections of land,” Osypowski said. “I feel that small towns and private property owners are being pushed around in ways that are not fair for a corporation that doesn’t have any particular interest in any of the things that we care about. They are not here to protect our landscape, they’re not here to protect our people.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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