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OLIVE BRANCH OFFERED IN TREE-TRIMMING CONFLICT

Residents of Westerwood hopeful that revised ordinance will prevent unsightly pruning

 whitney@yesweekly.com @YesWeekWhitney

The residents of Historic Westerwood in Greensboro take pride in their home landscaping. The 1920s neighborhood is filled with beautiful old trees and well-tended gardens. So some neighbors were furious when they discovered that their favorite trees and shrubs had been destroyed by Duke Energy. After a nearly two year dialogue with Duke Energy and the City of Greensboro, Westerwood residents are hopeful that policy and procedural changes will make the upcoming round of tree trimming less drastic.

Gail Barger is on the board of directors for the neighborhood association and heads the community watch. She is optimistic after some of the initiatives made by Duke Energy to communicate more effectively with residents. “They’ve been extremely considerate,” said Barger. “We have a good understanding now of what to expect.”

Another round of tree trimming in the Westerwood area is scheduled to begin July 21 and last about six weeks.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Paige Layne said that lack of communication partially led to the original conflict. “They didn’t clearly understand what was going to happen,” said Layne. “What we’ve done to prepare is to go back and work with the city to make sure that residents know what to expect, so hopefully there won’t be any surprises.”

Duke Energy District Manager Randy Welch has been in contact with the Westerwood Neighborhood Association and shared information about the pruning methods to be used on trees, along with maps and diagrams of the tree trimming plans. In addition to these newsletters members of Duke Energy’s vegetation management team began going door to door in the neighborhood on July 7 to make sure that each property owner had a clear understanding of what trees would be cut.

Notification has mitigated a lot of the frustration, but much of the initial anger was incited by what many residents felt was a sloppy job of tree trimming in late 2012.

“They came in and massacred the neighborhood,” said Barger. Some property owners had over a dozen trees cut down in their yard alone, eliminating much of the shade and natural privacy created by the trees. Other residents felt that the trimming techniques used by Duke were unsightly.

Layne says that the procedures used by Duke Energy were developed by arborists in order to preserve vitality. “When we come out to trim we have to trim it from a reliability perspective,” said Layne. “A lot of homeowners like the look of a rounded tree, but to protect the health of a tree that is actually not one of our techniques.”

According to Layne, trees trimmed by Duke Energy tend to have “L” or “V” shapes that a private pruning company would not use. While these shapes may be better for trees and the surrounding power lines, most residents prefer the overgrown look of a canopy.

Representatives from Duke Energy attended meetings for the Tree Ordinance Review Committee with members of Greensboro’s City Council and Westerwood residents to come up with a solution. It became apparent that tree trimming had upset property owners in other older neighborhoods near downtown.

“The problem wasn’t here, the problem was everywhere,” said Barger.

“It’s just that we have an incredibly active and cohesive neighborhood.”

In the fall of 2013, the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department joined Greensboro Beautiful Inc. to start the “Right Tree/Right Place” program. The plan allowed property owners to be compensated with two new trees for each tree removed by Duke Energy. The new trees are considered acceptable by Duke Energy’s standards and aesthetically pleasing for homeowners.

A number of Westerwood residents have taken advantage of this program and planted trees such as dogwoods in their yards.

While property owners have been fighting for authority over the appearance of their own yards, Duke Energy maintains that one way or the other the trees still have to be cleared from the power lines.

“We’ve been attempting to trim these trees for a year and a half,” said Layne. “This is work we have to do. We don’t have the option of not trimming them.”

A deeper issue comes from the fact that the power lines in Westerwood are considerably old. “Those lines were designed to last 80 years, and our neighborhood is coming up on 100 years old,” said Barger.

The power grid in Westerwood is connected to other nearby communities, so Duke Energy is especially wary of the potential consequences of hovering older trees. Some of the trees have grown so close to power lines that Duke Energy will have planned power outages in some cases. Power outages would begin around 8 a.m. and last around three hours.

“We want to minimize the impact as much as possible,” said Layne. The hope is that morning outages will be less invasive than afternoon outages during peak summer heat.

The trimming is set to begin the week of July 21 and last five to six weeks. Trees slated for removal will be marked with green tape. The new Tree Ordinance gives they property owner the right to protest the removal of a tree, and in this instance the vegetation crews will only be allowed to prune the tree. “We wanted them to go a little further with that ordinance,” said Barger.

Layne emphasized that the arborists who work for Duke Energy would also like to keep the damage down to a minimum. “They don’t want to just come and work for us so that they can cut down trees, said Layne. “They love trees.”

For now, both parties seem at peace with the changes that have come out of the tree-trimming conflict. “They are trying,” said Barger.

The hope is that Duke Energy will feel secure about the safety of its power lines by the end of summer, and residents of Westerwood will feel like the neighborhood hasn’t been altered beyond recognition. While neighbors like Barger are cautiously optimistic, Duke Energy should expect to hear about any issues that arise. No missing branch is likely to go unnoticed.

“We’re very protective of our trees,” said Barger. !

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