LOWCOUNTRY LOWDOWN

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By LOLITA HUCKABY

Murder on the side of the road

BEAUFORT – Yes, indeed, dear readers, there was a murder on Ribaut Road last week, and the culprit is Dominion Energy, who replaced S.C. Electric and Gas in early 2020 as our provider of electricity and hacker of trees.

The victims of this “murder” happen to be poor, innocent bystanders – crape myrtles – which along with oaks and dogwoods and even our own state tree, the Palmetto, happen to be in the line-of-fire for the Dominion contractors who believe cutting is the only solution to making sure their power lines stay in place.

To call the attack on crape myrtles “murder” is not unique when it comes to the discussion of pruning this southern greenery. It has been linked to a 1997 gardening column in Southern Living magazine where the practice of cutting trees to chest height was described as unnecessary and a detriment to the lovely flowering plant.

The columinst, a Mr. “Grumpy Gardener” blamed the practice, usually occurring in January or February, on frustrated home owners
who were tired of being inside or just didn’t know better.

In this case, the culprit is Dominion, which arrived early to Beaufort County with this Christmas “gift” perhaps not realizing tree-cutting is serious business to some in this part of the world and not to be taken lightly.

When the contract cutters showed up on the county roadsides earlier this month to do their job, some residents who had been through this ritual before – several times in fact – with S.C. Electric and Gas, were horrified to see the same slashing and cutting taking place. It was déjà vu all over again. Didn’t the city have ordinances how tree removal was to be handled?

While the utility company, which is also in the process of asking for a rate increase from the state, had sent out post cards warning folks of the pending actions and press releases by the city of Beaufort were posted, perhaps those notices were overlooked while recipients read through their Christmas letters and pondered the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine so we can move on to a healthier new year.

Concerned calls to Beaufort city officials indicated all was “in good hands,” but out on the street it sure didn’t look like it.

Looking around, further investigation showed the Bluffton Town Council discussed Dominion’s plans back in September and expressed concerns that the proposed tree trimming be carefully monitored by town staff, including an arborist and the town Beautification Committee. A staff member was identified and contact number provided for citizens with concerns.

Mayor Lisa Sulka, on the town’s website, noted the town staff would be working hard “to balance the protection of trees against safety precautions.”

The city of Beaufort had a 22-page agreement with SCE&G on tree trimming procedures, so it’s not like pruning is prohibited; it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

The good thing is, “murdered” crape myrtles can grow back; the mutilated limbs may mar the leafy beauty of some streets but will sprout new growth in time.

Removal of Palmetto trees, that’s another fight.

The right-of-way Palmetto trees being considered for removal, in many cases, were there before the power lines were installed. “Industry standards” used by the utilities contend the Palmetto fronds, if they touch live wires can cause fires or cause power outages. Trimming those fronds back from the lines isn’t enough, according to “industry standards.” Those trees are on the chopping block.

As Mayor Sulka said, it’s a balancing act, just one of many those who care about the Lowcountry face.

Lolita Huckaby Watson wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year even if you’re not a tree-hugger or jet-noise critic. She is a community volunteer and a former reporter/editorial assistant with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today and Beaufort Today and can be reached at bftbay@gmail.com.