Jack Nelson is worried that his trees might be chopped down. "I don't think it’s proper for someone to come on private property," Nelson said.
Nelson lives in Vienna, and his property abuts the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. Recently he found that Dominion Virginia Power has plans to trim or remove many trees along the trail that threaten its power lines.
Nelson is particularly alarmed by what seems to be a more aggressive campaign of cutting this year. The utility has typically come along the trail every three years and trimmed branches that could knock out power lines if they fell, Nelson said.
He does not dispute the need for such measures but said that Dominion is being a bit overzealous. "Why don't you just do what you've done for the past 27 years?" Nelson asked Dominion.
This time, Dominion has marked trees on Nelson’s property for removal. The tree-trimming crews that work for Dominion marked the trees along Nelson's property line which they believe are a threat to the lines.
The crews came in and marked trees with pink ribbons — one for removal and two for trimming, Nelson said. Nine of these trees are in Nelson's yard.
THE MARKED trees on private property, however, are a mistake, said Le-Ha Anderson, spokesperson for Dominion Virginia. The marked trees, she said, are only based on a first glance. "Those are flags that our contractor put on the trees as his initial estimate," she said.
Anderson stressed that Dominion Virginia has no plans to go onto private property. "We are not going onto somebody's private property to cut down their tree," she said.
Anderson added that staff from Dominion will meet with the property owners to explain why they believe it is important to remove specific trees. "We are going to work with the property owner," Anderson said. "We have to abide by what their wishes are."
She asserted that Dominion does have the right to trim branches that overhang. "We may go to the edge of our property and trim those that are hanging over our easement," Anderson said.
The easement runs along the trail but does not extend onto Nelson’s property, he said.
Anderson confirmed that Dominion trims trees on a three-year cycle. She explained that the increase in activity is in response to pressure from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electricity Reliability Council. “We are mandated by several different regulatory bodies to keep our easement clear,” she said.
The transmission lines that run along the trail serve over 1 million customers, Anderson said.
The utility has an easement on the trail, said Paul McCray, park manager of the W&OD Trail for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. "The easement basically said that they can cut down anything they want," McCray said.
It was established when the Park Authority purchased the land that makes up the trail. The easement allowed the Park Authority to be able to afford the property. "If we didn't give them the easement, we wouldn't have the trail," McCray said.
However, McCray pointed out that Dominion has been aggressively trimming trees prior to the issuance of the reports [see sidebar]. “Really, this started before any of those things they’re using as justification,” he said.
THE TRIMMING measures work, McCray explained, because the contractors remove the branches that face the power lines. This, he said, puts the weight of the tree on the opposite side, and therefore when trees fall, they fall away from the lines. He also said that in the history of the trail, only one tree has fallen onto power lines and that was as a result of Hurricane Isabel. Anderson said that other instances of trees falling onto the lines may have occurred.
A meeting between Dominion Virginia, Nelson and his neighbors had been scheduled for Nov. 16, to discuss why the marked trees should be removed. Dominion’s representative was forced to reschedule just prior to the meeting.
The meeting was well attended by others in the community who expressed annoyance at the whole issue. Several months ago, a task force had been formed to discuss tree trimming along the trail. “We discussed every single tree,” said Vienna mayor Jane Seeman. “That one area was one of the most vulnerable.”
After the meeting, Nelson walked along the trail and pointed out other sections that had already had the trees trimmed. Some were trimmed of just a few branches, while others were made to look like telephone poles. Nelson theorized that the real reason behind Dominion’s new measure is their bottom line.
If the utility company removed the trees more aggressively, Nelson reasoned, they may not need to send crews out to do it as often. “I say trimming can do the same thing as decimation, and if it costs them a few dollars more now and then, so be it.”