Bruce Rayner: PG&E is trimming your trees
November 8, 2018
Most PG&E customers who live locally in rural areas have been dunned lately by threats (for your safety) to cut off power when there is even a remote possibility that power lines will spark and cause a wildfire.
Those whose power has been cut off, even in a 7 mph breeze, know that power can't be restored until crews check for damage to the lines.
As PG&E has said on your robo calls, in emails and letters, this is serious, they want you to be safe! To that end they have mounted an army of subcontractors and workers to survey and trim trees on your property in Nevada County. An army? Drive out to the Nevada County Fairgrounds to see the large encampment of trucks and equipment on the hillside.
This is mostly manned by a PG&E subcontractor, ACRT, who is tasked with trimming all vegetation along power lines to "revised" safety standards to hopefully prevent wildfires. It is a laudable project on the part of PG&E but there are a few problems that will affect many property owners with PG&E right of ways across their forested property.
If you've been contacted by uniformed ACRT workers, you know that they want to walk your property and mark dangerous trees that could threaten their lines and cause a wildfire. The problem is that due to their emergency status, they are authorized to take down and trim trees that you may have considered a beautiful part of your landscape.
Trees must now be cleared to a distance of 12 feet of the lines, not the four foot distance that historically has been OK. Trees outside the 12 foot distance may be trimmed, maybe all the way to the top. It is up to them as experts and they show you plastic pictures of what your trees may look like. You are told this must happen and while they show you the yellow markings on your trees, you are asked to agree so the work can start. There is no paperwork or contract showing what will happen and they tell you that PG&E is exempt from timber plans or environmental studies for this emergency work.
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I found their sales pitch of safety for all very convincing, however, several of my trees that must go are forest giants, the very reason I love and bought property here. Thus I said no, and they put me on their "refusal" list to be contacted by management. Quite intimidating.
I next did some research which turned up a different story. Most of the information is on the PG&E website, but quite obscure, such that I needed Google to find it for me. Let me outline what I found, you can find the actual links on the digital edition of The Union as they would be hard to copy here.
Listen to a KNCO interview on Sept. 14 with PG&E's Brandi Merlo. She says, in part, "… to meet new state safety standards (that) require a minimum clearance of 4 feet around power lines in high-threat areas, with clearances of 12 feet or more at a time of trim, to ensure compliance …"
Confusing, as ACRT will tell you 12 feet, yet PG&E on their site says, trimming to 4 feet has not changed since 1999. Further, mature, large healthy trees may be exempt from trimming, if you know the rules.
The CPUC sets standards for all electric utilities in California. Nowhere could I find where the CPUC required anything more than 4 foot minimums.
Granted, there are "hazard" trees, damaged, or leaning towards lines that should be removed.
Considering the confusion caused by the involvement of multiple subcontractors, it would be wise to look closely at the laws and regulations (PG&E) before you give up any of your trees. Question anyone marking your trees and ask for a written contract of what is to be done.
I have protected mine with "DO NOT CUT" flagging tape (from Amazon).
Safety is one thing, unnecessary encroachment on your property and rights is another.
Bruce Rayner lives in Nevada City.
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