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County officials urge PG&E to tread lightly in tree removal

Published: Monday, February 4, 2013 at 6:22 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 4, 2013 at 6:22 a.m.

Sonoma County officials are urging PG&E to tread lightly when removing trees and brush in regional parks and open space district lands that are crossed by the utility's high-voltage power lines.

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PG&E has begun clearing some trees underneath power lines in Sonoma County.

John Burgess / PD

“The safety and reliability of the transmission lines are the Number 1 priority, but I also believe that PG&E plans must mitigate the environmental impact this will bring forward for years to come,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will ask PG&E to agree to remove trees only as a last resort, replace trees that are removed, develop erosion measures, guard against invasive plants and work with state agencies when working around waterways.

PG&E is half way through a two-year Transmission Vegetation Management Plan to remove brush and trees and trim trees along high-voltage lines that stretch 39 miles from The Geysers to Petaluma.

The program is essential to removing any hazard that could cause the transmission lines to fall and create a power outage that would have a wide-scale impact.

It is also a program that has stirred some controversy.

Spokeswoman Brittany McKannay said the utility is working with property owners and will trim instead of cut down trees where possible, but it is on a case-by-case basis.

“There is no tolerance where a tree comes into contact with our high-voltage line,” McKannay said.

Critics contend that PG&E is pushing an agenda to clear-cut a swath under the power lines and has also run afoul of state Fish and Game regulations in the meantime.

“When they are left to their own devices, they are clear-cutting,” said Kathy Jaraczewski of Santa Rosa, a member of Save Our Sonoma Trees. “They are sensitive to the term, but when you go to a site where they have done the work, that is exactly what they have done.”

The utility is just now beginning work in Shiloh Regional Park and Sonoma Mountain Woodlands, which are regional parks, and Saddle Mountain Open Space Preserve and Coopers Grove, which are owned by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

“The taxpayers of Sonoma County have spent $32 million to protect and preserve these four properties over the past several years,” McGuire said. “I am very concerned this reclamation plan will leave lasting negative environmental impacts if we are not working together on a mitigation plan.”

McGuire said the goal is to get PG&E, which is regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission and state Legislature, to sign an agreement with the county to protect the county lands.

“My personal opinion is there should be a bias toward vegetation management versus tree removal, although I understand that there will have to be trees removed,” McGuire said.

McKannay said the utility has a $250,000 program to replant oak trees and is willing to work with the county.

“What we want to do with the county is work with them on each site and each public space and talk about public concerns, whether it is environmental or appearance, while making sure we are keeping the areas safe around the high-voltage lines,” McKannay said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.)

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