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An Understanding on Trees

‘Right Tree in the Right Place’ along Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

Since most of the best peace treaties are named after the place where they are signed, maybe this one will be called the Grace Accord. Representatives from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and Dominion Power agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding on April 29. The Agreement, announced at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church in the Vienna area is designed to govern tree and vegetation maintenance along the length of the 45-mile trail.

"This trail is beloved," said Bill Dickerson, chair of the Park Authority. "We are creating a new type of park."

The Park Authority owns the trail, but Dominion Virginia has an easement that allows the utility company a broad latitude in trimming and removing trees that it considers a threat to its power lines. In recent months, Dominion has engaged in a tree-trimming policy which many community members have called overly aggressive.

Dominion representatives said the agreement was the beginning of the company's new "right tree in the right place" strategy. Instead of trimming the trees on a three-year cycle, Dominion will remove any threatening tree and replace it with a species that will not grow as tall.

The agreement is designed to recognize that the trail is a dual-use facility, a park and an electrical transmission line. "Dominion recognizes that this is not a typical transmission line corridor," said David Hobson, interim director of the Park Authority. "The Park Authority recognizes that Dominion has need on the trail and must control vegetation."

THE AGREEMENT is not legally binding and represents a "good faith" effort. Either party can drop out of it at will. Hobson characterized it as a first step. "It really is not the end of a process, it is the beginning," he said.

The agreement provides for a variety of different tree types to be planted along the trail. Trees of varying heights can be planted, depending on many factors including the distance from the power lines, variations in ground height and how much a given segment of line might sag.

Dominion has agreed to a tree replacement protocol. For every tree with a diameter of four inches at "breast height" — about four feet from the ground — Dominion will plant a new, six-foot tall tree in either the fall or spring.

Dominion has also agreed to a phased removal of smaller trees. If an area of trees exists that is not currently a threat, but which will eventually grow to become one, Dominion will only take a few of the trees at a time in order to maintain the aesthetics of the trail.

Dominion will not use mowing equipment along the trail. It will also work to control erosion in areas where it does remove vegetation.

Dominion will still be able to use herbicides along the length of the trail. The company must notify the Park Authority in advance of its plans, and the Park Authority may require Dominion to post signs to warn trail users about the herbicide.

A host of elected officials were on hand to praise the agreement. They thanked the many people who had worked on the agreement and complimented Barbara Hildreth, chair of a task force which worked for months on parts of the agreement.

"I’m grateful the Dominion was willing to listen," said Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34). "There is nothing like strong citizen support and activism."

For the full text of the agreement, visit, www.nvrpa.org/vegetationmanagementagreement.html.