Residents demand explanation for policy; utility says 'we have to follow the rules'

  • Joan McKnight, who owns a home on Pine Flat Road, asks about PG&E's right to cut down trees during a public meeting to discuss vegetation management for 39 miles of high-voltage transmission lines at the Bennett Valley Fire Station in Santa Rosa, California on Thursday, March 29, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

PG&E's plans to remove trees along a 39-mile corridor through Sonoma County were met with angry rebuke at a community meeting Thursday night.

PG&E officials fielded sometimes-antagonistic questions for nearly two hours as property owners demanded an explanation for changes to the company's revised vegetation management policy.

The new plan is a response to more strict federal mandates and penalties related to power blackouts, said Bob Bell, supervising program manager for PG&E.

"We have to follow the rules," he said.

"We are doing this because we do not think the risk is acceptable here," he said. "We do not want to set this community on fire."

But property owners said PG&E has not been clear about which of the tens of thousands of trees across the county marked with the now-ominous "blue dots" are actually slated for removal.

"I'm more confused about what PG&E might do than when I came in," said John Dinwiddie.

Bell acknowledged the "horrible lack of trust" he said has pervaded the project. No trees have been removed, but PG&E officials said about 10 percent of those under the stretch need to be pruned or removed by the start of the fire season in mid-May.

"We are not going to clear-cut," Bell said, referring to language in letters sent to property owners. "That was a mistake. That's a problem, and I'm sorry."

The nearly 40-mile corridor in question lies underneath high-voltage power lines that stretch from The Geysers over Oakmont and Bennett Valley to Petaluma.

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