Though Greenbelt, MD, is known for its environmental advocacy, it is Bethesda, MD, where residents say they are ready to fight over Pepco's plans to cut trees to improve service. Pepco's plans call for cutting nearly 80 trees in an easement near Pooks Hill Road in Bethesda and it plans to .
In Bethesda, local officials are fielding a barrage of constituent complaints that the utility is cutting or trimming trees too aggressively, Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) said.
There have just been a small percentage of complaints in Greenbelt, according to Lesley Riddle, assistant director of Greenbelt Public Works. Part of the reason Greenbelt's reaction may not be as volatile as in other places is because its planning and departments have put a lot of work into improving the plan, according to Riddle.
She said that they are hoping to get through this without a lot of histrionics.
"It's green infrastructure against gray," she said, "and something's got to give."
In order to have services there has to be a certain amount of tree loss Riddle explained. Right now she is still going over Pepco's plans and hasn't approved them. She thinks some of their tree cutting is straightforward and simply needs to happen, but some areas are in question.
"The bottom line is we need to take time to review the plan," Riddle said.
When Pepco on April 24, Greenbelters didn't take up arms. But on Greenbelters Yahoo group, some residents did debate the issue.
Jason Dumont stated that Pepco customers complained and screamed after storms because they were in the dark, hot or cold, and their food was going bad.
"Somehow I believe that some of you are the same people screaming and crying now because PEPCO wants to come in and clear out the very trees that are causing or could cause problems," he said. "People you can't have it both ways."
Saying he is basically Dumont's neighbor, Aaron Marcavitch stated, "They need to understand that we live in one of the ONLY National Historic Landmarks in the US, a Landmark status that was built on the idea of a greenbelt."
Dumont advocated finding ways to make trees and power lines work together. Since running power lines underground is expensive, he advocated finding select areas in Greenbelt where that could occur, such as around Roosevelt Center and on Crescent Road in parkland areas.
As Bethesda grapples with a similar challenge, Berliner said, “I don’t want to get in the way of reliability, but I’m not looking for Paul Bunyan to come to town either,” He said they were trying to find a middle ground between Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed.
Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey confirmed the utility is managing vegetation in the easement, including removals, pruning and re-planting. But he wouldn’t confirm the number of trees being removed.
After mounting frustration with Pepco’s service, the Maryland Public Service Commission fined the utility $1 million last year after ruling it failed to maintain its lines for years. Vegetation management is under way across the county as part of Pepco’s five-year, $250 million reliability enhancement plan, which is mandated by reliability standards set forth by the public service commission, Hainey said.
Berliner, and County Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At Large) introduced legislation last month that may give Montgomery County residents some recourse by requiring Pepco to get written consent from a homeowner before removing trees on private property.
Under the bill, the county could assess a potentially hazardous tree on private property and decide whether or not it should come down, according to Michael Faden, a senior council legislative attorney.
The proposed legislation would not, however, apply to cutting or trimming in utility easements. And the Bethesda residents' complaints center on Pepco's plan to cut a large amount of mature trees in an easement on land owned by the Whitley Park Condominium Association near Pooks Hill Road.
Pepco has met several times with the community there after that called for cutting nearly 80 trees, said Mary Edwards, who owns a home near the easement.
“Our feeling is that they’re cutting everything down to make it easier for them, so they don’t have to come back in the future,” Edwards said. “There’s debate on how far some trees actually are from the wire, but they’re cutting all of it, because technically they have the right.”
Adam Scherr, who lives near the easement, said he believes Pepco’s vegetation management practices should be regulated.
“In my mind, it’s borderline criminal to go ahead and start chopping trees down and ruining the beautiful landscape, and doing it under the guise of, ‘We have to protect the lines,'" Scherr said.
As for Greenbelt, although Riddle reports the complaints have been limited, she also thinks that might change once the work begins.
Is Pepco cutting too aggressively or is trimming and cutting needed to enhance reliability? Tell us in the comments.