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Opponents of PG&E tree clearing fight back with lawyer, meeting

Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 7:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 7:24 a.m.

Landowners concerned about PG&E's controversial new vegetation maintenance program that has targeted thousands of trees along a 39-mile corridor through Sonoma County have hired a lawyer to combat the plan.

Facts

PG&E critics host meeting

Who: Save Our Sonoma Trees
What: Informational meeting for landowners and public
When: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bennett Valley Grange, 4145 Grange Road

Members of Save Our Sonoma Trees say that PG&E has not provided clear criteria for what trees among the tens of thousands tagged by PG&E crews will be cut down, trimmed or left alone.

PG&E says that its new policy was implemented in response to federal regulations that have increased penalties for outages and other incidents.

But homeowners contend the company's pruning program has worked well for decades.

“They are now talking about a very large-scale change in policy,” said Tom Birdsall, a member of the group who owns 41 acres on Sonoma Mountain Road. “There is a very high likliehood that it should be subject to an environmental impact review.”

Birdsall said he was told by a PG&E vegetation manager that up to 4,000 trees could be targeted for clear cut before June 15.

But PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Ehlers said there is not a firm tally on how many trees the company wants gone over the course of a month.

“We don't have an accurate count,” she said.

The company already has delayed its deadline for completion of the work from May 15 to June 15, she said.

“We would really like to continue to work with SOS Trees and make sure they can understand this work that we are trying to do,” she said.

Birdsall said the group hired an attorney after being frustrated by what he described as the company's refusal to disclose how decisions are being made on which trees go and which stay.

The high voltage lines run 39 miles from The Geysers to Petaluma and hang over Safari West, Pepperwood Preserve and Oakmont.

“The goal here is not legal conflict, the goal is to get a good outcome,” Birdsall said.

The group is holding an informational meeting from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. tonight at the Bennett Valley Grange, 4145 Grange Road.

It comes a day before a planned meeting Friday with representative from SOS Trees, PG&E and Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa.

Allen, who owns property in Oakmont, has introduced legislation that he said would limit PG&E's ability to clear cut.

“There has been different information back and forth,” said David Miller, Allen's spokesman. “Rather than continue with the ‘He said, she said,' situation, let's get everybody in the same room and talk it out face to face.”

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