Risks of Trees Near Power Lines

Risks of Trees Near Power Lines  

03 October 2011

published by www.kut.org

USA — Austin’s Public Safety Commission will get a briefing later this afternoon on the risks for more wildfires in town and what’s being done to prepare. The Commission will hear from the fire department and Austin Energy.

The Texas Forest Service said that two of the Bastrop County wildfire’s origin points were at trees that knocked power lines into dry brush. Central Texas is full of what are called “urban-wildland interfaces,” subdivisions surrounded by trees and brush. But some say it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“As is always the case when you have quality of life issues, there has to be a balance. In this case, a balance between the beautiful trees we have in Austin and love and the balance between the fact that we live in an urban area and have electricity lines running everywhere,” Former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd told KUT.

Todd says Austin’s tree-loving culture has in the past gotten in the way of much needed tree trimming. But a storm in the ’90s under his watch taught the city a valuable lesson.

“Well, the council has often times been hesitant to trim trees as much as they need to. In fact, when I was mayor, we had a storm come through that left about a third of our houses without electricity, and I was able to get council to approve a million dollars increase–immediate increase–to trim trees to make sure that sort of thing never happened,” Todd said.

The Public Safety Commission’s chair told KUT members heard from Austinities concerned about power lines sparking more wild fires. But Ed Clark with Austin Energy says the utility doesn’t believe there is a significant risk, even though it’s been very dry.

“We’re trimming along about 400 miles a year, the trim that we’ve got in effect is effective. Our crews do maintenance and, when they respond to outages, are keeping a sharp eye out for tree situations that may need some attention. We are encouraging customers to call us, if they see something they are concerned about,” Clark said.

The city spends about $9 million a year on tree trimming. The utility is not currently asking for an increase in funding.

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