Pruning of trees bares BGE to wrath of county

`It's an atrocity,' says Anne Arundel executive

February 24, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

When Gen. George Washington traveled through Annapolis to the State House to resign as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1783, he rode under a canopy of trees.

More than 200 years later, the majestic sycamores and white oaks still line this route down Generals Highway in Anne Arundel County - or at least they used to be majestic.

Recently, a large number of trees along the historic road were trimmed, hacked and whacked by contract workers hired by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Feb. 24 editions of The Sun about a tree-trimming project in Anne Arundel County by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company misspelled the name of BGE President and Chief Executive Officer Frank O. Heintz.
The Sun regrets the error.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens, who travels the road daily between her home in Millersville and government offices in Annapolis, was horrified when she saw the aftereffects this month.

"It's not a trim, it's an atrocity," she told reporters.

Owens was so bothered by the trimming in the area - a row of young gum trees and tulip poplars near Crownsville Hospital Center looked as though they had been snipped off by a giant pair of shears - that she wrote a fiery letter to Mayo A. Shattuck III, chief executive officer of Constellation Energy Group, the parent company of BGE.

"While I understand that you have legitimate reasons for pruning the trees near your power lines, this project is an atrocity that affects everyone who lives in the area and those that travel that road," she said.

Owens asked Shattuck to "exhibit more social responsibility" and "re-examine" his company's horticultural practices.

Shattuck was out of town last week and had not gotten the note, but BGE President Frank Hines and Brian Dashbach, manager for distribution, construction, operations and maintenance, were quick to respond to Owens.

Friday, Dashbach was part of a team of BGE officials who whisked Owens on a helicopter tour of the 9.5-mile swath of county land, much of it wooded, that has been targeted in the trimming project.

Power company officials temporarily halted the trimming last week - much to the relief of residents, including those who watch over thickets of Scotch broom that also grow under the power lines - after they were contacted by county officials.

After meeting with Owens Friday, the BGE officials agreed to be more selective about the trees they whack and promised to replant some areas with slow-growing dogwood and laurel. They said they would assign a horticulturist to oversee future trimmings.

The cutting, however, must continue.

"Ultimately, I was disappointed," said Owens. "I view Generals Highway as a gateway to Annapolis and you don't decimate the entry. But I understand that we have to protect those lines."

Bill Rees, supervisor of forestry and right-of-way management for BGE, said that the pruning could resume in a week or two, or as soon as the county and the power company sign off on a memorandum of understanding. "We are going to do everything we can to make [Generals Highway] look as good as we can," he said.

BGE officials sent letters and called residents to warn them before the trimming, said Rees, who has dealt with trees and the people who love them for more than two decades. He said he is used to being portrayed as the bad guy.

"In this business, you don't get angry," Rees said. "You just try to work through things constructively."

Rees said county officials had asked BGE not to cut down the trees closest to power lines, which is the method he would have preferred, but rather to cut them back, leaving a buffer between the power line and the woods.

But this method left what look like tall stumps - most measuring about 20 feet - with few branches that should sprout new growth in the spring, he said. Those that don't survive could provide homes for woodpeckers.

Rees said the power company must trim or remove trees that grow too close to power lines to protect the power source from falling limbs. If a tree were to crash into the power line that shadows Generals Highway, the result could be disastrous.

"Those lines carry a lot of juice, and they serve a lot of people," Rees said, adding that the line delivers electricity to about 80,000 consumers in the greater Annapolis area, including the Naval Academy and the State House.

Moe Coale, 68, a Crownsville resident whose house sits a few yards from the power line on Generals Highway, said he understands the need to remove dangerous branches. No one looks forward to a power outage. Still, he questioned BGE's trimming technique.

"Those trees look like telephone poles," he said, adding that a white oak at the edge of his property was severely cut back.

"I don't see how they can come back and be anything but ugly - if they come back at all," Coale said.

That's what worries Owens, too.

"If it takes those trees 20 years to grow back I'll be 78 years old," she said. "It's very troubling."

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