Every year, groups of trucks move through established Killeen-area neighborhoods, carrying crews of workers to prune large trees.
The crews, contracted by Oncor Electric Delivery Company, target trees that may interfere with overhead power lines during wind, ice or electric storms.
It’s a necessary task, since a single downed line in a storm can disrupt power for an entire neighborhood.
But how the trees are trimmed has been a source of irritation for area homeowners over the past several years.
Workers routinely carve a “V” shape in tall trees to allow power lines to pass freely between the remaining branches. Another common practice is to lop off an entire portion of the tree if it appears to be encroaching on a transmission line.
Oncor officials said every tree is trimmed a minimum of 10 feet in each direction from the lowest hanging wire. The 10-foot distance protects the power lines from swaying trees or falling branches. It also provides a safe working environment for utility crews.
Through informational door hangers, residents are advised a few days in advance of when the trimming will take place and are provided with diagrams of what the pruned trees may look like afterward.
But in some cases, the results are particularly troubling to homeowners, especially in the case of large, mature shade trees.
Last week, a resident went before the Harker Heights City Council to ask members to come up with an ordinance establishing guidelines for pruning trees, with which Oncor would have to comply. He also asked the city to keep residents informed about the utility’s tree-trimming schedule.
The council agreed to take up the issue at a future workshop — as well they should.
Mature trees are more than just a landscaping investment. They also provide shade, help the environment and increase the aesthetic appeal — and property value — of a home.
In some cases, severe trimming not only destroys the trees’ visual appeal, but it can lead to structural weakness and compromised tree health.
For its part, Oncor claims to employ vegetation management experts, including certified arborists, in its tree-pruning program.
Still, the program has drawn criticism in several Texas communities, including Grapevine, where longtime Mayor William Tate was inundated by calls from residents who complained that pruning had turned beautiful trees into eyesores.
In response, he asked Oncor in late 2009 to re-evaluate the program, as well as provide the city with a list of where it plans to trim at the beginning of each calendar year.
It’s uncertain what kind of response Heights officials can expect, should they enact restrictions regarding Oncor’s tree trimming.
As a public utility, Oncor is covered by state law, which prohibits residents or other unauthorized personnel from trimming trees within six feet of power lines. But as Oncor standards call for a 10-foot distance, there may be room for negotiation.
Of course, whether Harker Heights would have the legal authority to dictate the terms of the utility’s trimming practices within the city is debatable.
It’s also uncertain what kind of penalties the city could levy against the utility for violating any proposed city guidelines. Still, it would be a worthwhile endeavor on the part of the council to research the potential for such an ordinance.
Founded just 53 years ago, Harker Heights is certainly not an old city. But it does have some neighborhoods with large, established trees. It is important that the city move to protect the aesthetic value of those trees while also ensuring that overhead power lines are not compromised in the process.
If city officials can reach an agreement with Oncor to modify the tree-trimming process to the satisfaction of both parties, it will have been worth going out on a limb.