Hatchet job seen in BGE pruning

Residents say company goes too far with trims

`It's terrible. It's just a big mess'

Columbia

August 08, 2002|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Trees trimmed and toppled in the past month at Columbia's Lake Elkhorn have led some residents to complain about what they believe is wanton destruction.

Parts of the verdant canopy of tulip poplars, willows and other trees covering the lake's pathways are too close to power lines, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Some of the treetops have been hacked off, leaving exposed trunks reaching for the sky.

"It used to be so pretty," said Sue Neri, who takes daily walks along the lake in her Owen Brown neighborhood. "Now it's terrible. It's just a big mess."

BGE is trimming or cutting down the trees in a 250-foot- wide right of way near a 230,000- volt transmission line that serves all of Columbia and Howard County.

Every five years, BGE cuts trees to prevent them from interfering with the wires -- at the narrow end of the lake, near the source of its water -- and causing power outages. Some trees have to be chopped down because they likely would grow into the wires within five years, said Sharon Sasada, a BGE spokeswoman.

"We would never want anything to happen to that line because it would take out so many people," she said.

But Neri, who has lived in the area for 26 years, said the contract workers hired by BGE are "butchering" trees and whacking down "little trees" that she predicted would not have come close to the power lines as they matured.

Standing on a pathway near the bridge at the east end of the lake, Neri pointed to a hillside full of felled trees that used to be a dense awning.

"It's always been filled in -- always," she said. "This was the shady side. Now it's all sunny."

The Columbia community values its numerous trees lining pathways and roads, obstructing the views of buildings. Its lush environment with vast acres of open space is one of its main selling points.

Residents are often surprised by routine tree trimmings around BGE power lines, as when a portion of a tree canopy along Governor Warfield Parkway was cut down. Last summer, about 7 1/2 acres of 80-foot trees were cleared for a luxury townhouse development near The Mall in Columbia, prompting complaints.

"Whenever a tree goes down, [people say] `Whoa, what's happening?'" said Chick Rhodehamel, the Columbia Association's director of open space management. "Usually, after we explain it to them, they understand."

BGE has been trimming trees in Columbia since the beginning of the year, and Sasada said the power company is trying "to be as environmentally conscious as possible." She said the workers at Lake Elkhorn are leaving tree limbs on the ground for mulching: "This is organic -- it goes back into the ground."

But Laurel Stanek, whose property backs up to the BGE easement, said the piles of limbs and trunks lying off the pathway look like they have been "left to die."

"There's just these brown trees -- it looks really awful, like some kind of logging industry," Stanek said.

Trained foresters use forest industry practices when trimming trees to ensure that any cuts are healthy for them, Sasada said.

Stanek, however, said she worries that birds nesting in the branches will lose their homes and said BGE should be more environmentally sensitive.

"We're really privileged to live in such a wonderful place close to Lake Elkhorn, and I think BGE needs to show more environmental responsibility," she said.

BGE's tree trimming has upset residents elsewhere in the state.

This year, Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens was alarmed at the way trees were being pruned along Generals Highway and asked the power company to re-evaluate its trimming practices, calling the project an "atrocity."

BGE officials met with Owens and agreed to replant some areas with slow-growing trees and also be more selective about those that are trimmed.

At Lake Elkhorn, Stanek said, she enjoys living near the open space that the power lines create, but she'd also like to see BGE better use that area.

"It would be neat to turn it into an asset instead of some sort of a wasteland," she said.

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