Public to comment on Montgomery tree trimming bill -- Gazette.Net



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The Montgomery County Council will hear from residents Tuesday evening about a controversial bill that seeks to restrict which trees can be removed by a utility.

A public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the council hearing room, and residents, representatives of civic, conservation and agricultural associations as well as Pepco are expected to testify.

Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said previously the bill seeks to balance residents’ rights and tree protection with system dependability. It restricts which trees can be removed by a utility, requires utilities to file a vegetation management plan with the county, provide notice—including a consumer bill of rights—to affected property owners and occupants, and obtain their written consent prior to performing vegetation management on private property.

The bill, co-sponsored by Councilman Marc B. Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park, also allows utilities to ask Montgomery County to review and authorize the removal of trees on private property that pose imminent hazard to a utility's reliability. If the county finds that the tree is a danger to the system, it could, under the bill, authorize the utility to remove it without property owner or occupant approval. If a tree is taken down by a utility, the bill requires the utility to grind the stump.

In 2010, after the Maryland Public Service Commission opened an investigation into Pepco’s reliability, which was found to be among the worst in the state and nation, Pepco accelerated its tree-trimming program.

Late last year the PSC found the utility had been “imprudent” in not trimming enough to keep trees and limbs from falling onto power lines and interrupting service during storms. The PSC fined Pepco $1 million.

Pepco has become, in a sense, more aggressive in its trimming, said company spokesman Robert Hainey said in April. In addition to trimming overhang, the company also is removing sick and dying trees and trees that pose a danger to power lines.

Berliner said Monday his office gets more emails about tree trimming than almost any other issue. Residents have sent his office images of butchered trees, asking the county to protect the trees or have the vegetation more prudently pruned, according to general correspondence filed with the bill.

However, PSC chairman Douglas R.M. Nazarian criticized the bill in April when it was introduced, saying it would undercut efforts of state regulators.

The council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee is scheduled to discuss the bill at its 2 p.m. worksession on June 21.

kalexander@gazette.net