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Council Committee to Discuss Pepco Tree-Trimming Policy Today

Pepco says widespread cutting of trees will reduce outages, but property owners and environmentalists say Pepco is too aggressive.

Pepco and local environmentalists plan to meet Monday to resolve differences over what some critics of the public utility say is an overly aggressive policy on tree-trimming.

They are scheduled to meet during a session of the Montgomery County Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee.

The meeting is intended primarily to explore options.

“I don’t think they’ll have a new policy but I think they’re going to try to find a medium,” Neil Greenberger, Montgomery County Council spokesman, told Germantown Patch.

The meeting was called by Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda), chairman of the committee.

He has criticized Pepco’s strategy for avoiding damage to power lines by cutting trees back far enough that they could not fall on the lines during a storm.

Greenberger said, “Pepco wants to obliterate every tree, which would probably prevent some storm problems, but I’ve been in some neighborhoods where it looks like a tornado came through and sheared off everything.”

Pepco officials say they are trying to serve their customers without interruption.

They also say they are willing to listen to suggestions during the meeting Monday.

“Pepco hopes to have the opportunity to further the discussion of enhanced reliability for our customers,” Clay Anderson, Pepco spokesman, told Germantown Patch. “We feel there is a balance between providing reliable electric service and environmental concerns.”

Pepco announced in August 2010 that it would increase tree-trimming after storms damaged several of its lines, leading to power blackouts.

The power failures created numerous complaints against the utility.

After Pepco started more aggressively cutting trees last August, some property owners told the council they were losing too much tree canopy and the appearance of their neighborhoods was being altered.

The Audubon Naturalist Society joined the opposition to Pepco after the utility’s workers cut down a large swath of hackberry trees south of Poolesville. Some of the trees were more than a century old, according to the Audubon Naturalist Society.    

Pepco is asking the council for legislation that would authorize more widespread cutting of trees and plants that the utility defines as creating a nuisance.

Currently, Pepco must obtain permission from property owners. They often either deny permission or say they want only some specific limbs and plants cut.

Councilman Marc Elrich (D-at large) says he is considering legislation to stop widespread tree-cutting by Pepco.

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