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Tree trimming and tree "topping"

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Joined: 15 May 2004
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Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2005 8:51 am    Post subject: Tree trimming and tree "topping" Reply with quote

I'm overdue in providing an explanation here of the story (or at least my version of the story) behind the article Suggs addresses OR tree concerns with EQAB that appeared in the Oak Ridger on May 9th. The article was confusing and it already has led to two letters to the editor, by Nancy England (http://oakridger.com/stories/051805/opi_20050518019.shtml) and Al Brooks (at the bottom of http://oakridger.com/stories/052005/opi_20050520020.shtml). After seeing the newspaper article, I gave a short oral report on the tree-trimming matter during the "appearance of citizens" slot at the May 9 City Council meeting.

Background: The Environmental Quality Advisory Board (EQAB) serves as the City's Tree Board. As such, we commonly hear complaints about the way that trees are being trimmed or cut along city streets by crews working for the City Electric Department or Public Works Department. These crews are supposed to follow guidelines on trimming trees in ways that are healthy for the tree. (The Electric Dept.'s policies on tree trimming are described at http://www.cortn.org/EL-html/newweb/tree_trimming.htm and highlights of the guidelines on healthy tree trimming are illustrated at http://www.cortn.org/EL-html/newweb/maturetrees.htm and http://www.cortn.org/EL-html/newweb/tipping.htm.) Sometimes the resulting shape of the tree is unattractive to homeowners or passersby, so city staff patiently explains why it was necessary to trim the trees this way. Unfortunately, however, sometimes EQAB members find that the tree trimmers were deviating from the guidelines.

On to the story: In April I talked with a citizen who was concerned about unsightly tree trimming along a segment of Oak Ridge Turnpike in west Oak Ridge. I called around various city departments and determined that the Electric Dept. had had its contractor working in the area. I drove through the area and quickly saw the problems that had been described to me. Many trees, including several on Mr. Brooks' property that abuts Oak Ridge Turnpike, had been "topped" or "tipped" -- tree tops and other upright and lateral branches had been cut off between nodes (this leads to excessive sprouting, cracking, rot, and disease). Some trees on the turnpike and side streets looked almost exactly like the Electric Dept.'s cartoon drawings of the wrong way to trim a tree. Sad I was surprised and disappointed to see this -- in years past, "bad tree trimming" had generally turned out to be by someone other than the electric department, which typically uses well-qualified contractors.

Electric department staff said the contractor advised them that there had been no other way to trim those trees to provide proper clearance from the city's electric lines. After hearing that, I decided to add the topic of tree-trimming to the upcoming EQAB agenda. On relatively short notice, Electric Department director Jack Suggs agreed to attend the May 5th EQAB meeting to discuss the situation with the board.

As the newspaper reported, Suggs did tell us "The number 1 complaint we get is the shape of the trees" and he made general comments about the causes of outages on the city's electric system (trees are the number-one cause; primarily this is not limbs, but whole trees falling across lines). He provided board members with copies of a booklet describing the guidelines the city's contractor is required to follow: "Pruning Trees Near Electric Utility Lines: A Field Pocket Guide for Qualified Line-Clearance Tree Workers," by Dr. Alex Shigo.

However, the problem with the situation along the west turnpike was not just aesthetics of tree shapes. We passed photos of some of the trees around the table, and Suggs agreed that there is a problem. He informed us that the particular crew that had been working in west Oak Ridge had been performing badly and had been removed from the local job. This gives some assurance that the problems we observed will not be repeated (at least not soon). Suggs told us he would ask the arborist (tree-care specialist) who acts as a city consultant to provide advice on what could be done to repair the situation with the trees that had been damaged by bad "trimming." EQAB will need to follow up to make sure this happens.
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