Residents treed-off over tree pruning

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Arborist says ‘butchered’ trees remain healthy

By Mike McCombs

Dominion Energy has had crews trimming and removing trees within the City of Beaufort since Friday, and despite the fact residents in the affected areas were notified there would be pruning, Mayor Stephen Murray and the city have heard complaints.

It has been a number of years since the last trimming around Beaufort. Last time, it was done by S.C. Electric and Gas, the predecessor to Dominion.

“They are supposed to provide notice and they did,” Murray said. “They sent out postcards. I know I got one in my box.”

Murray said, aside from some complaints about Palmetto trees being removed, the biggest complaints have been simply how the trees were cut – or butchered, as those complaining might say.

Since Friday, the mayor has met with the tree crews and Dominion’s forester Will Epting, as well as the city attorney and several other city officials

Murray said the city has dusted off its 1997 tree-trimming agreement with SCE&G (updated in 2010), which is still binding. And, Murray said, Beaufort has hired Michael Murphy of Preservation Tree Care to be the city’s arborist on contract

Together, he said, they’ll be working with Dominion to ensure the trees are being cut to professional standards. And no trees will be removed unless absolutely necessary.

“There’s certainly a nuance as to how things are supposed to be cut. It’s important to me that we have an arborist with the city that’s working with Dominion’s reps as to how things are done,” Murray said. “I’m told as of (Monday) morning that’s what’s going to happen.”

Murphy won’t be a full-time arborist for the city but will help out on an as-needed basis.

“Dominion has an arborist, and he is doing a pretty good job of it,” Murphy said. “But I will spend a couple hours each week with public works and determine any issues that might come up and address them with Dominion.”

Murphy acknowledged why some residents may be upset.

“It’s exactly how it looks,” he said. “It looks like someone is flinging a chainsaw around, cutting everything in their way.”

Despite the appearance, Murphy said everything is not as bad as it seems and reassured residents the trees remain healthy, despite their appearance.

“They are doing what they’re supposed to do,” Murphy said. “It’s a huge public safety issue. It’s just unfortunate that the trees end up looking like they do. They look like they’ve been butchered, but it’s not as bad as it looks.”

Dominion addresses questions about its tree-trimming process online at https://bit.ly/2WALr9Q.

“We follow the American National Standard for Tree Care Operations (ANSI A300) for tree trimming—supported by arborists and other tree care experts. This method helps direct future growth away from power lines while leaving remaining limbs intact,” states Dominion’s website.

“ANSI A300 trimming may appear drastic at first but results in healthier trees long-term since fewer cuts are used. Affected areas callous quickly, reducing decay and allowing for future trimming that may be less noticeable.”

Though Murray said the process is “daunting” and a “seemingly never-ending maze,” especially if you call after hours, a Dominion representative has been talking to homeowners in neighborhoods during this process to address their concerns.

Homeowners and customers can call Dominion Energy South Carolina customer support at 1-800-251-7234.

In downtown Charleston, a group called “Stop Dominion” has filed a petition with City Council calling for leaders to tear up a nearly year-old contract with the power company. According to the Charleston Post & Courier, the group hopes to prevent Dominion from “butchering” any more trees.

According to Murphy, the power companies prune a certain distance from the lines according to how often they want to repeat. For instance, if they cut two feet from the line, they may have to come back every year, which may not be cost effective.

So how far back they cut the trees is based on how much time may pass before they have to come prune again.

Murphy said that until 15 or 20 years ago, there were no standards for utility companies.

“Everything they did was without regard for the tree or its health,” he said. “Now, they’re doing directional cuts and reduction cuts to subordinate limbs.”

Murphy said it’s our familiar image of the tree that makes it seem like it’s more damaged than it’s supposed to be.

“There are standards for this type of work, I just did an inspection today, trees they were working on on Ribaut Road,” he said. “Some things they need to go back and clean up, but they are applying all the current standards for this type of work. The trees aren’t going to look any better, but they are healthy.”

Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.

The scarred remains of this oak tree on the corner of Ribaut and Stuart streets is evidence Dominion Energy tree-cutting crews were in town over the weekend, beginning Friday. Photo by Lolita Huckaby