PGE's efforts to keep branches clear of power lines turned trees into 'ugly sticks,' city councilor says

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - Some trees on South Shore Boulevard were trimmed down to single branches or just the trunk, prompting calls for them to be removed entirely.Residents of Lake Oswego's South Shore Neighborhood and at least one city councilor say they were alarmed last week when a large number of trees were heavily trimmed by crews working for PGE and several more appeared to be marked for removal.

"PGE went way beyond trimming the trees — they went from trees to ugly sticks" said City Councilor Skip O'Neill. "They just don't represent the quality of Lake Oswego when they get all butchered up like that."

Neighborhood resident Rick Ebers agreed. "The beautiful green corridor that was South Shore has been irreversibly changed," he wrote in an email to The Review.

According to Public Works Director Anthony Hooper, the incident was partially caused by a misunderstanding. The pruning work along South Shore Boulevard was performed for PGE by the contractor Asplundh, he said, and the City didn't become involved until residents began calling to ask what was happening.

Part of the confusion, Hooper said, stemmed from the fact that Asplundh used yellow ribbons to mark the trees that needed trimming. But when the City does tree inspection and maintenance work, yellow ribbons are typically used to mark trees for removal, so nearby residents got the impression that the City was preparing to remove a large number of trees along the roadway.

"They unfortunately used yellow ribbons when they really should have just used a paint mark," Hooper told The Review. "It was not meant to mean that they're coming down. They're going to remove some trees, but nothing close to what people were thinking."

As of Monday, all of the errant ribbons had been removed and about 50 trees remained marked for removal. Many of those are the heavily trimmed trees that spurred complaints from neighbors, although Hooper said the City and PGE still need to review part of South Shore Boulevard.

The final determination on which trees are removed is up to PGE — Hooper said the City doesn't perform maintenance on trees near power lines. But some of the trees have simply grown too large for their intended locations, he said.

According to PGE's website, the company inspects the trees near each of its power lines every two or three years and trims or removes any that have become hazardous. Generally speaking, the website says, the company wants about 8-10 feet of clearance between a tree and the power line.

"Anything that's near power lines, we (the City) can't touch," Hooper said. "Trees are removed if they're considered hazardous, which is defined as something that possibly could damage the infrastructure or fall into the right of way and injure somebody — any kind of tree that has that potential."

But last week, O'Neill said he received calls from neighbors who were concerned that the trees had been so heavily trimmed that they would just end up dying.

"When they only leave one or two branches, they're no longer trees," he said. "Everything will look better on that street if we clean them up."

Hooper said the City got in touch with PGE last week to notify them about the problem with the ribbons. He said officials also asked to review the trees that PGE had marked for removal, and the power company agreed to consult with the City on the rest of the project.

"Some of the trimming has been a little more than we'd like, so we're reviewing some tree removals that they're recommending," Hooper said. "We're in the middle of that process right now. We discussed in the meeting that they plan on refining some of their pruning methods in the future."

In the long run, Hooper said the City will try to replace many of the removed trees with species that are easier to manage and won't cause as much of a problem with the power lines when they grow. But the replanting efforts will have to wait until after the current round of hot weather is over, he said, in order to avoid damage to the saplings.

"We're thinking of dogwoods and myrtles, that kind of deal," he said. "But there will be other kinds too — it'll be a case-by-case basis."

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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