SALISBURY TOWNSHIP ENVIRONMENTAL ADVISORY COUNCIL
PPL tree trimming created a storm of controversy at the Salisbury Township Environmental Advisory Council meeting.
Salisbury Township Director of Planning and Zoning Cynthia Sopka said that residents have phoned her at the township municipal building with complaints about the method and results of the PPL tree trimming.
PPL Electric Utilities stepped up its tree-trimming program in the right-of-ways of its electrical power lines following widespread power outages in the Lehigh Valley after Superstorm Sandy in late October 2012.
PPL may be spending upwards of $44 million on the tree-trimming.
"They want zero outages from trees," said a woman who did not want to be identified in the audience at the April 17 STEAC meeting.
Whereas previously, the tree trimming took on the aspect of a "donut-hole"-like shape in a tree, more often a "V-cut" is now used.
"It's going to affect runoff," claimed the woman. "It's going to look hideous."
Tree trimming is visible along East Rock Road, West Rock Road, Seidersville Road, Emmaus Avenue and Susquehanna Street, among other township streets.
Sopka said she met with an employee of an area tree-cutting firm.
"They are tree cutters, not tree management," Sopka said.
Sopka said that Salisbury has rules concerning the number of trees that are permitted to be cut down on private property. The township Shade Tree Commission, which is regulated by the Board of Commissioners, requires that if a tree is removed, it must be replaced. A permit must be obtained and a fee paid.
Sopka said that she has a concern that what she views as the extreme cutting of the trees could cause them to be unstable or even die.
In her conversation with the tree-cutting firm representative, Sopka said she told the person: "'You're taking away half of the vegetation. Those trees are going to die. And you're telling me the residents are going to have to take care of it?'
"'You're doing what we're exactly telling them [township residents] not to do,'" Sopka said she told the tree-cutter.
She said the PPL tree-trimming has been "very rapid, very fast-paced" and that township, PPL and tree-cutting officials have not sat down to discuss the program.
Sopka reasoned that if the trees cut by PPL are on private property and die, the property owners would be responsible to remove them.
Sopka also expressed concern about the possible spraying of herbicides.
The cutting of certain trees could also make it easer for invasive species to take hold, according to Sopka.
"I believe it's going to have to go before the board of commissioners," Sopka said of the PPL tree-cutting program.
It is uncertain whether municipalities, including Salisbury, have any power over PPL's tree-trimming decisions.
According to the PPL web site, "Our easements grant us the right to operate and maintain electric facilities on property owned by others.
"Trees are generally the most common cause of power outages, so vegetation management is critical to keeping the electric power grid reliable. We work very hard to keep trees away from power lines and spend millions of dollars each year as an investment in safe, reliable operation of the electric delivery system.
"We maintain about 35,000 miles of overhead power lines. Keeping trees and other vegetation away from these lines is very important.
"Federal and state regulators impose obligations on electric utilities based on the voltage of the line. Our vegetation management program is designed to meet regulatory requirements.
"Pennsylvania utility regulators require us to keep that system reliable. To make sure you have reliable electric service, we've developed a comprehensive program to manage vegetation around power lines.
"We will do our best to notify residents or property owners in advance of any vegetation management work. We want our customers to understand what line clearance work PPL Electric Utilities must perform, the reasons for the work and the timing."
Complaints by residents and officials about PPL tree-trimming and cutting have also occurred in Lower Macungie Township.