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We have received many questions in the last few days with regards to the pruning and removal of trees located within the public right-of-way, and we hope the following information helps clarify not only the intent behind the pruning and removals, but the process in which the Town plans to maintain our existing tree canopy.
As we all know, our region has faced many challenges in recent years with the quality of service from our electric utility providers; specifically following major storms such as the derecho of 2012, which left portions of our Town without power for a week. The Maryland Public Service Commission took note of this reality, and began instituting regulations pertaining to vegetation management. The Maryland Public Service Commission, which was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 1910, is the regulatory authority for all public utilities within the State.
These vegetation management regulations instituted by the Public Service Commission created standards in which electric utility companies are required to submit plans of action to address the growth of vegetation (trees) affecting power lines. Within these regulations, the Public Service Commission now requires a certain amount of clearance around power lines, depending on the kilovolt (kV). The majority of the work being performed within the Town is on sub-transmission lines carrying 69,000 kV, which requires fifteen (15) feet of clearance both horizontally and vertically.
Who has the authority to approve the pruning and removal of trees within the public right-of-way? The public right-of-way is an area dedicated for public use and is not owned by any one entity (property owners do not necessarily own the tree in front of their home); however, within the State of Maryland, the State controls and regulates the use and responsibilities of maintaining the right-of-way through devolution. With respect to trees located within the public right-of-way, neither the Town nor a public utility has the authority to prune, plant, or remove any tree without first obtaining a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. However, the Town does have the authority to prevent a non-dangerous tree from being pruned or removed by a public utility.
Is my tree located within the public right-of-way? We ask that you please contact the Town to help clarify if your tree is within the right-of-way or on private property.
Do I have any say if the tree is located on my private property? Yes. While trees located on private property fall outside of the jurisdiction of the Town when dealing with public utilities, any removal requests must be negotiated between the property owner and the utility company.
How did the Town determine if a tree would be removed or just pruned by Pepco? The process started three months ago when Pepco’s Staff Forester, along with a professional tree company, began reviewing the Town for potential issues that may affect the power lines and any future performance related concerns. The Public Service Commission recommends that if the required pruning will affect 25 percent or more of a trees crown, the tree should be removed, even if the tree is healthy.
Pepco’s Staff Forester submitted a request to the Town to remove twenty-eight (28) trees from within the public right-of-way. The Town hired an independent, ISA Certified Arborist and Utility Specialist, to evaluate each of the trees submitted by Pepco for removal. Upon reviewing each tree individually, our Arborist agreed to thirteen removals of the twenty-eight submitted by Pepco. Once we identified the removal trees, the Town sent notifications to each of these property owners explaining why the tree was being removed and asked for their input on possible replacement trees from an approved list.
What is the Town doing to maintain our existing tree canopy? As with any tree removal within the public right-of-way, either by Pepco or the Town, we require that it be replaced, per our one-to-one replacement ratio.
As previously mentioned, trees removed from the public right-of-way beneath power lines have limitations as to what may be planted. For these replacements, we allow our Residents to choose from an approved list of trees, which once fully mature, will not directly affect the power lines.
As for trees not located beneath power lines, we are allowing Residents to choose from an additional list of approved trees, which once fully mature, will help replenish and maintain our existing tree canopy.
I still have questions. If you still have questions about the pruning and removal process of trees located within the public right-of-way, please contact the Town staff: 301-949-2424.