Company's plans cut deep

BGE policy on tree trimming and removal frustrates Halethorpe residents

January 13, 2008|By Madison Park | Madison Park,Sun reporter

From Kaye White's kitchen window, a row of crepe myrtles, redbuds, lilacs, and apple and pear trees block the view of the electric tower sitting a few yards from her Halethorpe home.

"In the springtime, it's a mass of pink and lilac," she said of the trees as she gazed out of her window yesterday.

But Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. has told her that 18 trees sitting on her property will have to be cleared, White said, as well as the trees of some neighbors.

The utility company is set to start cutting down trees in the neighborhood as soon as Tuesday, according to residents who are frustrated that the previous practice of trimming trees near wires has shifted toward complete removal.

"For years, they trimmed and trimmed," said Bruce Packal, a neighbor of White's on Gun Road. "Something has changed."

Trimming or removing trees near the wires helps prevent outages and gives workers access to them, BGE officials have said.

"In general, we trim to protect reliability of the lines," said Kelly Shanefelter, a BGE spokeswoman.

From Packal's living room, his family enjoys a view of a stream and a hill covered with trees and foliage that hide an electric tower sitting 130 feet from his property. In December, crews hired by BGE came to Packal's house to tell him they would have to clear 21 trees on his property.

"There was no explanation other than that they were going to cut them down," Packal said.

After he contacted BGE, he was told that the company was cutting trees down in "anticipation of stricter federal guidelines."

In an attempt to save his trees, Packal offered to pay for trimming, but BGE declined, he said. Crews are scheduled to remove the trees Tuesday and BGE has proposed a "goodwill offering" of $175 per tree, he said.

"At what point does their right of way become my property?" Packal asked. "When is it enough?"

The residents of Gun Road said BGE has a right of way within 66 feet of the company's wires.

When BGE media officials were reached Friday afternoon, Linda Foy, a spokeswoman, said they did not have enough time to research and answer questions about the Gun Road residents' issue before the weekend.

Foy also declined to discuss the company's general policy regarding removing trees from private property. "It would be inappropriate to make generalizations. We need to find out what's going on in this case."

Last fall, residents in northern Baltimore County complained about BGE removing trees near its transmission wires along Cromwell Bridge Road.

William T. Rees Jr., director of BGE's forestry unit, told The Sun in November that BGE workers have previously pruned trees, but that current industry practices call for clearing tall-growing trees within 66 feet of its right of way.

The Halethorpe residents say their reason for fighting to keep their trees is not only aesthetic.

During colder months, the trees provide a break from the wind. In hotter months, they provide shade, reducing the cost of air conditioning, residents say.

"We plant trees as buffers and they want to take them down," said Jackie Hedeman, a lifelong resident of the area.

In 1953, as a little girl, Hedeman planted a hemlock seedling she brought from Virginia, which she said has become a beloved tree on the family property. That hemlock is marked for removal.

"My dad is 94 years old, and this is breaking his heart," Hedeman said.

Her family settled on their Gun Road property in 1920, describing the wooded area as " a little piece of heaven." Nine of the trees in her front yard are situated within the transmission right of way.

"I don't like it at all," said Harold Hedeman, Jackie Hedeman's father. "As far as I'm concerned, there's no need to destroy all this private property as long as it don't interfere with their lines."

madison.park@baltsun.com

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