HARKER HEIGHTS — Stu McLennan lives in Highland Oaks, a Harker Heights subdivision made up of brick ranch-style homes with neatly landscaped yards and aging live oaks, red oaks and other trees.
McLennan’s concern for these trees, some of which have been around for decades, recently led him to urge the Harker Heights City Council to do its part to monitor and regulate trimming done by Oncor and other utility service providers to save the trees from being mangled and sometimes killed.
“In my opinion, we need to encourage service providers and residents to work together on potential issues in high-foliage areas with utility lines,” McLennan said.
“My family says I’m now like the Lorax, I’m speaking for the trees,” he said, referring to the Dr. Seuss book.
While McLennan said tree trimming is “really not the city’s business,” he believes the council could write an ordinance with guidelines for service providers to follow. He also recommended the city coordinate with Oncor to approve the ways trees are identified and protected during routine maintenance and emergency repairs in high-foliage residential areas.
Public Works Director Mark Hyde said he is working closely with Oncor to avoid tree-trimming problems. Although Oncor alerts residents via door-hangers when trees will be trimmed in their yards, it did not always inform the city. But Hyde arranged for Oncor to alert him when they have a project planned.
“When they have a big tree-trimming operation, they will send details on the work,” he said. “This is a little different, this is meeting before the work happens and talking about it.”
The early alert will allow the city to post the information in its quarterly newsletter along with tips about tree care, such as what to do with a dead tree or one that needs trimming. In addition, when Hyde receives Oncor’s project updates, he asks that representatives visit with property owners to let them know what’s happening.
“We’d much rather have the property owner taken care of and to know that they’re happy,” Hyde said.
Oncor area manager Karl Green said his crews are trained on the proper way to trim trees during emergency power outages, but they do not perform that duty on a regular basis. The electric company contracts with tree-trimming operations for routine maintenance, which is performed on a five-year rotation by area. The maintenance is monitored on site by arborists and vegetation management experts that work for Oncor, Green said.
Homeowners can trim their own trees, but Oncor and Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements say they can not get within 10 feet of power lines. According to Texas law, only professionals who are authorized by the companies who own the power lines are allowed to prune or remove trees within six feet of high-voltage power lines.
Green said the tree-trimming issue is often a no-win situation for Oncor and homeowners. “I’ve been in the electric business 25 years; vegetation, tree trimming is always an issue.”
City Manager Steve Carpenter said he plans to research other municipalities in the state to see if they have ordinances in place that regulate tree trimming done by utility service providers.
In the meantime, McLennan said he has no complaint with the city or Oncor but wants to see a more collaborative effort between residents and those entities to protect trees in Harker Heights.
“I want the city to facilitate communication and residents to be more proactive,” he said.
The council agreed to address the issue at an upcoming workshop.