Homeowners say DP&L crews are killing scenery

The utility says it’s following protocol in clearing power line risks.

Carl Schooler says he can appreciate the need to clear trees away from power lines, especially since his home lost power for eight days after last fall’s windstorm. But he wishes DP&L crews hadn’t simply lopped off four feet from the top of the giant blue spruce in his front yard.

“It looks like a Christmas tree with a flat-top,” Schooler said. “If I’d known they were going to do that, I would have hired a professional to do it. It looks awful.”

DP&L officials say residents have that option, as long as they use one of the authorized tree trimming services listed on the utility’s Web site. Customers must pay the bill, however.

Even tree professionals say trimming done properly can produce results that don’t always please their customers.

To preserve the health of a tree, limbs should be cut back to the nearest strong lateral growth — that is, a live offshoot from the limb big enough to keep the remaining portion of the limb alive. A lateral has to be at least a third of the thickness of the limb being trimmed. Otherwise, the limb, and possibly the entire tree, won’t survive, said Tom Miller, an arborist and owner of AAA Affordable Tree Service.

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“Sometimes the appropriate cut is to take the limb all the way back to the trunk,” he said. “That can make a homeowner mad, but it may be what’s best for their tree.”

Many readers who contacted the Dayton Daily News about their trimmed trees said they were not notified by DP&L before work began. DP&L officials say their crews try either to contact the homeowner personally or leave a notice prior to line clearance.

Jim and Jan Rakestraw of Kettering were vacationing in Florida when crews worked on trees behind their home. They returned in March to find the back half of their redbud gone.

“That redbud tree would have never reached their power line,” Jan Rakestraw said. “They don’t get that big.”

The Rakestraws decided to take the rest of the misshapen tree down but said they’ll miss its luxurious blooms in the spring.

Bryce Nickel, DP&L’s vice president of service operations, said tree crews are trained to take into account the type of tree they’re trimming. Fast-growing trees, such as silver maples, may be cleared 12 to 14 feet from power lines while slow-growing trees, such as oaks, may be cut back only 5 or 6 feet, he said.

The time of pruning can be critical to a tree’s health, Miller said. For instance, oak trees are susceptible to a deadly fungal infection if they are trimmed in late March through June, he said.

But DP&L crews can’t make exceptions for individual trees when they’re trying to meet a timetable. “We trim by circuit areas” serving an entire neighborhood at once, Nickel said. DP&L currently uses seven companies for trimming with about 80 crews in the field — 250 people in all working in 24 counties, he said.

Dayton City Commissioner Nan Whaley said she has received numerous complaints from residents who say they can’t communicate with the mostly Spanish-speaking crews working on their trees. “I think it’s good they’re putting people to work, but DP&L needs someone there (with the crews) to communicate to citizens what’s going on,” she said.

Gerald Spinks of Kettering said he has lost two oak trees and a third is now dying. He believes DP&L’s tree trimming crews are to blame. “They could take a little bit more time with what they do,” he said.

Mark Webber, an arborist and owner of Mark Webber’s Landscaping, said trees infringing on high power lines should be removed completely and replaced with so-called “wireless” trees and bushes that won’t grow high enough to be a problem.

Such a tree replacement program would be less expensive than burying power lines, he said, but would require cost-sharing among homeowners, DP&L and localities.

Webber called it a “win-win situation” for all.

DP&L would save on yearly line clearing costs and be spared the inevitable homeowner complaints. Homeowners would see the value of their property enhanced. And localities could be assured they wouldn’t lose power during storms.

“Why doesn’t everybody just meet halfway on this?” he said.

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