- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005


better for lines

NORFOLK — The hurricane was the culprit, but trees were the enemy when Isabel swept through Virginia nearly two years ago.

Most Virginians and many people in North Carolina went for days without power, and felled trees were a big reason.

To avoid a repeat in the hurricane season that began June 1, utility companies have begun changing their tactics in the effort to keep trees from decimating the power grid.

“Utilities have recognized for years that vegetation and power lines just don’t mix,” said Lynn Grayson, president of the Utility Arborist Association and the Virginia supervisor of forestry for Appalachian Power.

The association, with roots going back more than a century, “has been trimming and cutting trees all during that time.”

That’s not enough anymore, however, said Mr. Grayson, 60, who has been with the arborists association for two decades. Increasingly, utilities are turning away from the saw in favor of the shovel, attempting to make peace with nature by compromising with it.

If something has to grow under or along power lines, why not make it something that won’t interfere with them?

Dominion Virginia Power, like other utilities, has moved more aggressively in that direction, said Mike Brucato, 51, technical adviser for electric-transmission forestry at the utility.

Traditionally, working on a three-year cycle, utility crews or contractors trimmed back and topped off trees too close to high-voltage transmission lines. Too often, Mr. Brucato said, it was “just-in-time trimming,” catching encroaching branches mingling with power lines.

The quick fix is to cut down any tree or shrub threatening to ensnare itself in a power line. But when lines arc across someone’s yard, and the enemy of the power grid is a beloved family maple or a buffer of stately green pines, “That’s hard for some people to swallow,” Mr. Brucato said.

Thus, Dominion hatched its tree-replacement program.

“When we cut down a tree or trees, we replace them with another species more appropriate,” Mr. Brucato said.

Property owners usually get to make the choice, picking from a menu of trees and shrubs. The utility pays for everything, from cutting and removing old trees and stumps to planting the new trees and doing the landscaping.

Not only is the problem tree gone, replaced with new growth, but there will be no need to send trimming crews. “It’s a win-win situation,” Mr. Brucato said.

In the two years since the Dominion Tree Replacement Program was launched, more than 2,500 trees and shrubs have been planted. Most often, the projects are small, replacing a few trees in a single yard. There have been a handful of bigger efforts.

Last summer, for instance, crews cleared a quarter-mile stand of pines along Curlew Drive in Norfolk’s Elizabeth Park. The trees had provided a thick, green buffer between the neighborhood and the Norfolk Southern railway line that parallels the high-transmission line.

A few months after the trees were cut and the roots ground up, Potters Landscaping of Suffolk moved in, planting shrubs and bulbs along a 15-foot-wide garden path.

Their showing wasn’t too substantial this year, but Mark Potter, the owner, promises residents will enjoy future springs and seasons beyond.

The plantings included 360 wax myrtles, 24 crape myrtles, 110 winterberry, 110 forsythia and 1,200 daffodil bulbs.

“It’s not going to get too tall, but it will be a nice buffer,” Mr. Potter said.

The tallest trees will reach their maximum height of about 15 feet — well below the power lines — in about three years, he said. Trees with mature heights of less than 35 feet will be safely below most electric lines.

“We’re getting first-class plants put in, in a first-class manner,” Mr. Brucato said.

Dominion is working with three nurseries to do the work. Dominion will not disclose how much it’s spending.

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