The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

June 12, 2013

Athens to ease up on trimming trees

By Jean Cole

— You have seen them — healthy trees that look like they have been trimmed within an inch of their lives to prevent power outages.

Electric departments in every city face the same problem; tall species of trees planted under or too close to power lines. Trees can cause power outages when their branches even touch lines. Nobody likes power outages, so utilities trim trees, and not always to the delight of homeowners.

Athens Utilities may soon take a different approach to trimming; one that may appease tree lovers to some degree.

Scroggins told City Council members the utility hopes to begin cutting old-growth trees in yards and in the historic district according to species.

“We would try to trim slow-growth trees less often, maybe cut 5 feet off rather than 10,” Scroggins said, noting that a 10-foot space is the typical space needed between power lines and branches.

“It will cost a little more, but some trees will not grow 2 feet a year where others will grow 3 to 4 feet a year, so we would cut off 10,” Scroggins said.

Councilman Jimmy Gill said he would simply like to see the utility refrain from cutting away one side of a tree and leaving the rest.

“Why not just cut off the top rather than cut off the side?” Gill said.

The discussion of tree trimming and power outages prompted one council member to propose a change.  Councilman Chris Seibert suggested the city and Athens Utilities determine what it would cost to install underground utilities by sections in the city.

Scroggins said that while underground utilities are more expensive on the front end, the   maintenance costs are much lower.

Mayor Ronnie Marks said it was something the city could look at if Scroggins could provide an estimate for a small section. Whether the city will be able to afford such a conversion depends on the estimate and the council’s willingness to back the idea.

The tree issue arose after Scroggins asked the council to accept a bid from tree trimmers and line clearers needed around substations. The bids were let by circuit, with the utility selecting the lowest bidder for each circuit. Scroggins said the bid document was written so a bid could be awarded as a whole to the overall low bidder or by circuit to the company that was low bidder on each individual circuit. Allowing this kind of bidding saves money, he said. The total contract was $795,738, which the council approved at the meeting that followed. The low bidders were Lewis Tree Service, East Coast ROW Maintenance, ABC Professional Tree Service and Asplundh Tree Expert Co.