Legislation to restrict utility tree trimming in Montgomery County is on an indefinite hold as lawmakers pursue a voluntary agreement with Pepco.
Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda drafted a bill because of increasingly aggressive trimming by Pepco. He had said the legislation was an effort to reconcile residents’ rights and tree protection with utility reliability.
Berliner said Monday that bill is on “pause” while he pursues a memorandum of understanding with Pepco to achieve the same end.
Saying he hopes to sit down with Pepco representatives, arborists and the Maryland Public Service Commission after the council returns from August recess, Berliner said he will try to craft an understanding with the utility that would “achieve an outcome that does not get in the way of reliability but also improves the quality of tree trimming in our community.”
Similar understandings with Pepco are in place in Rockville and Takoma Park, and Berliner said he plans to review those to see if they will provide a basis for coming to an understanding of its own with the utility.
As originally drafted, the bill 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 also allows utilities to ask the 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 the tree is a danger to the system, it could, under the legislation, authorize the utility to remove it without property owner or occupant approval. If a utility takes down a tree, the bill requires the utility to grind the stump.
In June, County Attorney Marc Hansen opined that Berliner’s bill overstepped county authority by attempting to regulate a utility, something only under the purview of the PSC, leading Berliner to consider amendments to the proposed legislation.