County officials urge PG&E to tread lightly in tree removal

  • PG&E has cleared about 10 trees a year under high tension power lines at Safari West, but this past year they cleared 80 trees.

Sonoma County officials are urging PG&E to tread lightly when removing trees and brush in regional parks and open space district lands that are crossed by the utility's high-voltage power lines.

"The safety and reliability of the transmission lines are the No. 1 priority, but I also believe that PG&E plans must mitigate the environmental impact this will bring forward for years to come," Supervisor Mike McGuire said.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will ask PG&E to agree to remove trees only as a last resort, replace trees that are removed, develop erosion measures, guard against invasive plants and work with state agencies when working around waterways.

PG&E is halfway through a two-year Transmission Vegetation Management Plan to remove brush and trees and trim trees along high-voltage lines that stretch 39 miles from The Geysers to Petaluma.

The program is essential to removing any hazard that could cause the transmission lines to fall and create a power outage that would have a wide-scale impact.

It is also a program that has stirred some controversy.

Spokeswoman Brittany McKannay said the utility is working with property owners and will trim instead of cut down trees where possible, but it is on a case-by-case basis.

"There is no tolerance where a tree comes into contact with our high-voltage line," McKannay said.

Critics contend that PG&E is pushing an agenda to clear-cut a swath under the power lines and has also run afoul of state Fish and Game regulations in the meantime.

"When they are left to their own devices, they are clear-cutting," said Kathy Jaraczewski of Santa Rosa, a member of Save Our Sonoma Trees. "They are sensitive to the term, but when you go to a site where they have done the work, that is exactly what they have done."

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