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Tree trimming has neighborhood residents up in arms

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Some residents of one downtown Columbia neighborhood feel they’ve been visited by the tree grinch this Christmas, though Dominion Energy says regular tree trimmings are crucial to maintaining public safety and reliable service. 

During the last few weeks, Dominion crews have been visible around Rosewood, cutting tree limbs and removing vegetation, but not everyone is pleased about what’s been left in their wake. 

Rosewood resident Julie Conway was one of several members of a neighborhood Facebook group to post about the scale of the trimming, calling it a “catastrophe.” Reached by the Columbia Regional Business Report, Conway said Dominion crews “jacked up my yard pretty good, and the trees around the neighborhood look ridiculous.”

Other group members posted pictures of large piles of brush and tree limbs. One resident of Ott Road, standing in a backyard stripped of tree cover, said she was still in mourning over her yard’s new appearance. 

“We had three beautiful trees chopped down completely. They were each 20-30 years old,” Kristin Cunliffe told CRBR. “It completely changed our backyard and there’s no easy fix.”

Paul Fischer, Dominion Energy senior communications specialist, said the maintenance, which happens on a five-year cycle, is vital.

“This work is about safety. There is no higher concern,” Fischer said. “As part of our routine five-year cycle, to really ensure safety and reliability of our system, we support a comprehensive, proactive vegetation management program. While we understand and appreciate the passion surrounding trees across our service territory here in South Carolina, safety remains our top priority. Trees that have grown too close to overhead lines are really both a fire hazard and an issue of employee and public safety.”

Fischer said the five-year cycle was also followed by S.C. Electric & Gas, a former subsidiary of SCANA Corp., which was acquired by Dominion in December 2018. He said that several factors may contribute to residents noticing a more drastic difference in the most recent round of trimming. 

“The growing season in South Carolina over the last three to five years is so accelerated,” he said. “You’re looking at more than 300 days approximately of a growing season in South Carolina, more so on the coast, maybe a little less in the Midlands, but that’s about an average. When you’ve got that much growth, when we come through to get those proper clearances, it may look at little more drastic at first, but the good news is, those canopies return. … The reason we come back every five years to clear the circuit of limbs and dangerous vegetation is because the canopies do return. Initially it might look a little stark, but with the warmer temperatures and so much rain and humidity, it seems those canopies return quicker than ever these days.”

Fischer said the trimming meets generally accepted Tree Care Industry Association standards and is done with the health of the tree in mind. Trees that exceed 15 feet in height are not suitable for planting in distribution rights of way or near overhead lines, he said, adding that Dominion is working with municipalities in its service areas to make sure that “we’re planting the right trees in the right place. A lot of times, the trees that are encroaching on those lines are probably trees that should not have been planted there in the first place.”

Fischer said residents are notified, either by postcard or email if they’ve signed up for e-bills, that tree trimming will be taking place in their area. Residents can call Dominion customer service at 1-800-251-7234 to discuss concerns prior to trimming or to inquire about removal of debris, which he said typically occurs within 48 hours. 

Conway, who lives on Oceola Street, said she hasn’t tried to contact Dominion. She said she received a notification around six months ago but wasn’t told when the trimming would occur. She also said her fence gates were left open and was glad her dog wasn’t in the yard.

Fischer said that while Dominion does occasionally hear from residents with concerns about vegetation removal, the company hasn’t received complaints from the Rosewood community.

“We’re doing this work somewhere across South Carolina every working day, with thousands of miles of overhead lines to maintain,” he said. “This is the way we keep the lights on to ensure safety and reliability for our customers.”

Another topic of discussion on the area neighborhood page has been a recent spate of flickering lights. Fischer said that may be a harbinger of tree limbs on lines, which he said is the No. 1 reason for power outages and a reason why removing those threats is necessary. 

“Our goal here is not to remove trees,” he said. “It’s really to remove risk and to make sure the system is safe for our employees and the general public and to ensure that reliability that customers count on when they come home and turn on that switch.”

 

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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