Some say tree trims go too far

Safety requires it, according to BGE


When a familiar tree disappears overnight, "it's like a man whose mustache has been shaved off," says Sher Horosko, a community activist and member of Carroll County's Environmental Advisory Council. "You know something is different."

Horosko's comments were directed at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s tree-cutting program along a 9-mile stretch of Route 140 from Finksburg to Westminster. She and other activists, officials and property owners have been criticizing the company's plans for extensive trimming and removal of trees in the area.

While conceding that the utility can deal with trees in its rights of way, they said the company has changed its approach from trimming and pruning to eliminating trees. The Carroll County commissioners last month asked BGE to halt work, and the environmental council also voted to express its concern.

A contractor has been working along the route for several months, after BGE announced plans July 13 for trimming and removing trees, especially "dangerous and tall-growing trees," said spokeswoman Linda J. Foy.

"We have not changed our approach," Foy said. But "at one time the trees in question were not as large as now, as tall. Trimming was probably an option that we could live with, but they have continued to grow."

As of Oct. 21, agreements had been reached with all but a handful of property owners, according to a reply to the commissioners from Michael L. Fowler, senior government relations representative for the Constellation Energy Group.

The high-voltage transmission line supplies service to about 24,000 of the 54,000 meters BGE has in Carroll, said Fowler and William T. Rees Jr., BGE's supervisor of forestry and right of way management, in a conference call last week with Foy.

Although Maryland was not affected by the August 2003 northeast regional power failure, they said the failure began with a falling tree limb. BGE must comply with new standards developed by the North American Electric Reliability Council.

"Ultimately our goal is not to have tall-growing trees along transmission lines," Rees said. "It hasn't happened yet; we want to make sure it doesn't happen.

Fowler said trees not only can fall but pose a hazard even when they do not appear to be that close to a line. "With a high-voltage line, an arc could jump through 1 to 2 feet, up to 6, 8, 10 feet," he said. Voltage in the lines ranges from 115,000 to 500,000 volts, and "the higher the voltage, the farther it can jump. "

This would apply to the screen of Leyland cypresses along the Hillandale Inc. mobile home park - the trees that have drawn the most comment. It appears this line of 17-year-old evergreens will be spared the chainsaw, at least temporarily.

Delay discussed

Norman O. Ebert Jr., Hillandale's president, is working on an agreement with BGE to delay the cutting for five years while a new line of trees is planted behind them.

"All I can tell you now is they have no intention of cutting down the trees," Ebert said last week, noting that his company attorneys said the trees definitely are in the utility's right of way.

When property owners signed the rights of way some 50 years ago, Ebert said, "they assumed that they were doing it for the public good: to put up the wires and maintain them. It never crossed anybody's mind that these folks were going to come back years later and want to clear all the trees in your front yard - which is what they're doing."

Kevin T. Stebbings said he dealt amicably for years with BGE trimming the trees on his property on Blue Heron Drive northeast of Westminster. But that changed last winter, and he obtained a temporary restraining order from a Carroll County Circuit Court judge in September.

"I've been in the trimming program for 12 years, and it's been working very well," Stebbings said. "They'd come every two to five years and trim, and they actually got into a program where they were doing a very nice job, not doing any damage to the trees. "

"Now they want to cut deeper and farther. Their ultimate goal is to remove the trees," he said.

At a Sept. 30 hearing on his lawsuit, attorneys for Stebbings and BGE told the judge that the dispute was being resolved and that they would ask that the emergency order be dissolved.

Money issue

BGE attorney John L. Wood said afterward that this was his only such case in Carroll.

"We cut a deal [to] save the trees right around the house," Stebbings said recently. "In reality, it comes down to dollars and trimming costs. They'd rather remove than trim, absolutely."

BGE representatives attended a meeting with members of the Finksburg Planning and Citizens Council but would not provide much information, said John Lopez, its treasurer and past president.

Jim Johnson, president of the Finksburg Planning and Citizens Council and a member of the county's environmental council, said he was discouraged.

"I think the issue has been kind of a failure, as far as any effort by the Finksburg planning council and the EAC. We've tried very hard to get BGE to reduce their aggressive approach and just trim as they have in the past."

Carroll officials consider Route 140 in Finksburg a gateway into the county - and want to keep it green, Horosko, Johnson and others noted.

Fowler agreed. "The concept is being discussed of a greensway," he said. "BGE has committed to participate in that, as a result of this."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.