The Kenwood Press|
Questions surround fire damaged tree and vegetation removal
As PG&E is looking to wind down its aggressive post-fire tree culling program, Sonoma County is ramping up a federally-funded project that aims to take down fire-damaged trees along 90 miles of roads if they pose a danger of falling into county roadways. While the initial survey for the program is finished, the number of trees targeted is not yet available.
Adobe Canyon Road homeowner Patti Everett became aware of the county project when a survey crew showed up at her home – the last house before the Sugarloaf State Park entrance – and put aluminum tags on many of her second- and third-growth redwoods surrounding an auxiliary structure that burned in the October fire. Her home is intact.
“It’s very, very sad,” Everett said, noting that redwood trees are fire resilient and that many of those tagged by the county’s consulting firm, ACRT, don’t seem to be damaged or even in the county’s right of way.
“I want to make sure that none of them are taken down by accident,” Everett said. She is currently trying to find out exactly where the right-of-way boundaries are.
While the county would normally be restricted to removing tree hazards from within their right of way – usually 20 feet on either side of the centerline of the road, there is some question as to whether they will reach into private property to take trees.
Sonoma County Public Works spokesman David Cameron said it would be impossible to determine exactly the precise rights-of-way for all 90+ miles of roadway being surveyed.
“Right-of-way can take several forms and depends largely on how a road became part of the County system and if it was later altered or improved,” he said. “It is not usually drawn from parcel to parcel; however, it can vary between different properties on the same road. This is why it was not realistic to survey all 90 miles of fire affected road.
“This means that some of the trees identified will be on private property.”
Cameron is the assistant project manager at Public Works and is overseeing the current stage of the program titled Arborist Services for Tree Assessment in Fire Damaged Areas.
“The County is carefully considering how best to ensure that trees on private property, which threaten the safety of people who use County roads, will be removed. Property owners will be notified prior to any tree work, or informed if they could be responsible for removing the trees.”
The program isn’t exactly funded yet, although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has indicated it will be eligible for funding, according to Cameron. “FEMA has confirmed that the assessment and mitigation projects are eligible for funding”, he said. “This would be provided after the work has been performed.”
Last December, the county hired Akron-based ACRT, a utility vegetation management company that works for utility companies nationwide. The employee-owned company was to assess trees over six inches in diameter and over four feet tall for hazards to county roads along 90 miles of fire damaged roadway by the end of January and report back to the Public Works department in February.
What happens next is not clear.
“It will take a while for us to go through the report and determine the best approach, prioritizing public safety and effectively getting the work done,” Cameron said.
Asked if there is any appeal process, Cameron wrote: “We have received several questions regarding tagged trees showing green growth. My understanding is that it is possible for a tree to have suffered catastrophic structural damage but still produce new growth. Action on such trees will be taken on an individual basis and only with the recommendation of the licensed arborist, hired by TPW [Sonoma County Transportation and Public Works Department] to perform this assessment.”
Tom Petarian lost his home on Lawndale Road and doesn’t plan on rebuilding. While he has not had problems with the tree removal and cleanup on his property so far, he hasn’t had much of a voice in the process, either.
“It was three weeks before I could see the property and by that time most of them had been cut,” he said.
Having lived there for 36 years, Petarian feels that PG&E has taken a very aggressive approach to tree removal this time. “They are cutting everything near a power line.”
He has already called PG&E to sign up for their special tree removal program.
PG&E wildfire wood management programHaving taken over 30,000 trees down during and after October’s firestorm, PG&E is looking to finish this special phase of its ongoing vegetation management program that keeps California’s lively flora away from its power lines. Lawsuits have already been filed claiming the company’s lax oversight is to blame for at least some of the fires that destroyed over 5,000 homes in Sonoma County alone.