PG&E is scheduled to begin removing trees Thursday as part of a controversial maintenance program that has targeted thousands of trees along a 39-mile corridor that runs through Sonoma County.
The work — 17 trees in eight locations mainly in Larkfield and Rincon Valley — addresses immediate threats to the high-voltage lines, but does not constitute a start to more far-reaching removals that have caused concern among property owners, according to the company.
"This is urgent work that we need to take care of," said PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers. "It's an imminent threat."
"It's part of the same line; it's just different work," she said.
Ehlers said the eight property owners affected by today's work have been notified and that the company is still moving forward with outreach to other property owners concerned with the company's new, more aggressive vegetation maintenance plan.
Property owners and environmentalists contend the company has unnecessarily targeted thousands of trees for removal — a move they say will create a 39-mile scar from The Geysers to Petaluma along high-tension lines.
Representatives from the all-volunteer Save Our Sonoma Trees asked PG&E late Wednesday to call off work planned for today until a meeting between the group and PG&E can be set.
"I'm a little surprised that this work is scheduled. We had thought there would be no work until there was discussion," said Tom Birdsall who owns 41 acres on Sonoma Mountain Road.
His group is pressing for a uniform policy on removal, pruning and maintenance.
"Obviously, then it's easier to implement and (it's) more straightforward," Birdsall said. "Most of the landowners now want to be there when any work happens."
Ehlers said those discussions are still in the works and that the 17-tree removal this week is to eliminate immediate threats to high-power lines.
"We also are working with property owners, with homeowners associations and Save Our Sonoma Trees to figure the best course of action and move forward on the larger project," she said.
Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, who owns property in Oakmont, where high-power lines stretch across the sky, introduced AB2556 which he said would limit PG&E's ability to clear cut. The bill passed out of the Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce on Monday and will be taken up in the Appropriations committee in the next few weeks, according to David Miller, Allen's spokesman.
An aerial survey of the 39-mile corridor done approximately two weeks ago identified trees that need to be removed immediately, Ehlers said. A field specialist examined the areas Monday and property owners were alerted beginning Tuesday, Ehlers said.
"They understand the need for the work," she said.
But the potential for the start of seasonal tree removal has some property owners feeling nervous.
"I called and said &‘I don't want any trees cut on my property until we meet and you tell me what your plans are,'" said Dan Viele, a property owner on Mountain Meadows Lane off of Sonoma Mountain Road.
Viele and three neighbors are slated to walk their properties in early May to examine trees near the line.
"We need a moratorium; we need time," he said.
"We don't want our forest to burn down; we aren't stupid," he said. "Waiting nine months to a year on something as major as this does not seem a high price to pay for this."