County hopes to strike balance with PG&E over tree cutting

Sonoma County supervisors said Tuesday they hope to strike a "balanced approach" between power line safety and environmental protection under PG&E's major transmission line through the county.

"It's a no-brainer," board Chairman David Rabbitt said after listening to residents castigate the utility for clear-cutting under power lines, and others compliment it for decades of community service.

"Sometimes there's a little you have to give," Supervisor Efren Carrillo said, in order to "keep the lights on."

Supervisor Susan Gorin backed the environmental concerns. "We love our trees, let's just be really frank about this," she said.

And Supervisor Shirlee Zane said PG&E has a "grand opportunity" to respond to an "erosion of trust" by some of its customers.

At stake is the utility's new program -- called a Transmission Vegetation Management Plan -- for trimming and removing trees beneath the 230-kilovolt power line that stretches 39 miles from The Geysers to Petaluma.

PG&E has completed 65 percent to 75 percent of the tree management program in Sonoma County and will extend the rest of the work into 2014 in order to work with officials and residents, PG&E spokeswoman Brittany McKannay said.

Residents became alarmed last year after PG&E marked thousands of trees on private property with blue dots, targeting them for removal.

Bill Keene, general manager of the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, said the public lands "could be dramatically altered and impacted" by the utility's tree-clearing program.

More than $14 million has been spent to acquire and develop the four properties: Coopers Grove and Sonoma Mountain Woodlands east of Rohnert Park, Saddle Mountain Open Space Preserve on the east edge of Santa Rosa and Shiloh Regional Park near Windsor.

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