Why Greensboro Residents Are Upset Over Tree Cutting

Jan 22, 2013

Many residents in Greensboro are upset with Duke Energy over the company's practice of pruning, and in some cases cutting, neighborhood trees. Frustrated citizens started two Facebook groups, collected 15-hundred signatures for a petition and demanded that local leaders step in and help.

Ten Years ago sub contractors for Duke Energy made the rounds in several Greensboro neighborhoods, trimming and cutting trees that were too close to power lines. It sent residents who felt the pruning was too aggressive into an uproar. They complained to elected officials and Duke eventually heard about it, but nothing really changed. In fact nothing really happened at all. Last month crews returned to some neighborhoods for the first time in a decade.

Members in one Greensboro neighborhood were particularly upset when a tree with no power lines directly over head was completely cut down. A spokesperson for Duke says cutting down trees is a last resort.
Credit Credit Jeff Tiberii

"This stump right here is of a tree that had to be 75 years old, and they took it clean out," says Drew Perry.

Perry lives with his wife and son in a neighborhood near downtown. On a recent rainy afternoon, the creative writing teacher at Elon University walked through his neighborhood pointing out recently created stumps. On one corner a 100-year-old oak tree - gone, on the next a 75-year-old maple is no more. Duke says it cut down dozens of trees, one City Council member estimated the number at closer to 150. Again, Perry:

"What are our thoroughfares going to look like? What are our residential streets going to look like? Do we lose something of the character of the city if we take out trees that are 100 years old as opposed to trying to find some way to have reliable power and old growth canopy trees at the same time?"

Perry says people in his neighborhood understand pruning is necessary, but they want tighter restrictions on Duke. Citizens remain concerned about changing aesthetics, the removal of sound and light buffers as well as property values. In Greensboro the company can cut back any tree that is within a 15-foot radius of a power line. Perry points to a street corner where one old tree was recently chopped down. The nearest power lines are across the street, at least 30 feet away from the stump.

"It's a last resort - cutting down trees is a last resort," says Lisa Parrish, a spokeswoman with Duke Energy. She says the utility simply has to do some work in order to keep power flowing and residents happy. The company agreed to temporarily stop pruning last month after the city threatened a cease and desist letter.

"We're committed to working with the city as they consider a possible ordinance. And we certainly have concerns about anything they would adopt because it could make our job much more difficult."

Some resident want to limit Duke's trimming to within just seven feet of a power line. That would put Greensboro in similar company with Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Cary, all of which have thorough tree ordinances. City Council woman Marikay Abuzuiater says any ordinance must outline better communication between the company and residents:

"Number one to do everything we can to preserve our tree canopy; number two - communication, the residents need to know yes there is going to be some pruning there are going to have to be some trees that are taken down, we need to explain why. Number three would be, I think one of the most important things, should it be decided that a tree needs to be cut than what can we do about reforestation?"

Additionally she says the ordinance must address the responsibility of clean-up. Duke has left piles of wood in front of some houses. Residents say they should not have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to have the debris and stump removed. Duke says moving forward it will not cut down any tree without having a face-to-face conversation with the owner first. Citizens are optimistic that this time around the City Council will adopt some sort of change. A new ordinance is expected next month.