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PG&E VP Talks Controversial Tree Removal; County Board of Supes Wants Specifics

Three trees are marked on a Martinez resident's property for removal, one a 100-year-old olive tree with sentimental value.
Three trees are marked on a Martinez resident's property for removal, one a 100-year-old olive tree with sentimental value.
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors said today that they will need more details from PG&E before the utility moves forward with a proposal to remove hundreds of trees from county property as part of a larger tree and vegetation removal plan to boost access to its gas pipeline network.

The board was the latest government entity to hear from PG&E about its controversial Pipeline Pathway Project, which in recent months has angered and concerned some East Bay residents and city leaders who say PG&E cannot unilaterally cut down trees.

The public indignation over the proposal has prompted PG&E to slow down the plan and utility officials have agreed not to cut down any trees before reaching agreements with cities and counties.

However, utility officials say removing vegetation and even some small structures such as free-standing garages over the utility's gas pipeline is essential for public safety - one of PG&E's top priorities in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed 8 people and damaged some three dozen homes.

[Related story: PG&E Pleads Not Guilty to 12 Charges Stemming From San Bruno Blast.]

PG&E Vice President Kirk Johnson addressed the Board of Supervisors at its meeting in Martinez today about the dangers trees and their roots pose to the pipeline.

 Johnson said that for decades, the utility has been "too customer-friendly," allowed property owners to plant trees too close to the pipeline and has been lax on reinforcing previously existing guidelines about planting trees above the pipeline.

Now, he said, PG&E has seen that "tree roots have the ability to interfere with the safety and protection of our pipeline from external corrosion -- corrosion impacts the integrity of the pipeline."

In addition, trees situated just above the pipeline make it difficult for workers to access and maintain the line and check for any safety issues, he said.

Still, PG&E officials have pledged to slow the five-year, $500 million tree removal plan until they have inked agreements with the cities, counties and private property owners involved.

Related: PG&E Suspends Plans to Cut Down Trees in Walnut Creek.]

"It will take a while to get there but this is what we would like to see to eliminate the risk," he said.

PG&E has put up thousands of line markers and signs to clearly mark the pipeline and is dispatching patrols and sending out mailers to boost awareness of keeping pipeline access areas clear, he said.

Debra Mason, a Bay Point resident who spoke at today's meeting, agreed that removing the trees is necessary. "It's sad to see an oak tree go...but I think we have to put the people and our community's safety first," she said.

However, several other speakers said removing the trees would significantly downgrade their homes.

"To clear that pipeline would be ruinous to our community, it would ruin our property values, it would ruin our ambiance," said Pleasant Hill resident Yehudit Lieberman.

Susan Fuller, who lives along the Iron Horse Trail in Pleasant Hill, asked PG&E to consider alternatives to removing the oak trees that line the yards in her neighborhood.

County staff today said that PG&E must provide more specifics about where they plan to remove trees before it can work with the utility on the proposal.

-- Bay City News
Terry Kremin April 23, 2014 at 12:18 PM
This is definitely over reaction by PG&E to old bad planning and execution by PG&E, and more bad planning and execution again by choosing a hack and slash policy over actually assessing what is on the pipelines. Some trees that were planted over the pipeline right of way should never have been planted. That is a public safety issue, and some should be removed both for root control and for inspection access. PG&E SHOULD have been more proactive in the past ensuring the trees didn't get planted in the first place. But then they should have been inspecting welds as well... While some trees should be removed for safety concerns, a tree by tree assessment (root type, true proximity) should be done to determine which should actually be removed. As usual, the truth lies in the middle of the "cut all trees" and the "save all trees" arguments. Hopefully our city council can show the leadership to actually accomplish both necessary public safety clearing and non-problem tree retention, and not forsake safety of people for all the trees. While I love trees, and likewise would hate to see our big old Mulberry in the backyard have to go, if I had to sign a waiver saying that if a gas line break and eruption occurred because of my tree that I absolve PG&E and agree to be liable for all damages to all parties caused by the leak and/or explosion, I would have to favor losing the tree over assuming that responsibility.
Liede-Marie Haitsma April 24, 2014 at 02:12 PM
They are cutting down lots of trees on Contra Costa Blvd next to Sun Valley Mall; both down the middle of the street and by the sidewalk.
Liede-Marie Haitsma April 24, 2014 at 07:24 PM
And what's going on on Geary Blvd, Pleasant Hill...the trees have been cut down and sections roped off down the entire road...new pipes or sidewalks being put in (?).
George March April 27, 2014 at 12:13 PM
So, "PG&E has put up thousands of line markers and signs to clearly mark the pipeline," huh? A significant segment of the line apparently runs down Alhambra Way in Martinez adjacent to my home and I have seen ZERO markers denoting this PG&E feature. I have lived here since 1997 and have never been inforemd by PG&E that this main line runs here, nor have I EVER seen any markers identifying that it is here, or exactly where it is. I do know of a water main (it has ruptured twice in recent years) and the sewer line is evident by the manhole covers, but a gas main? Nope. Las year PG&E did do line pressure testing locally, but there was never any shared indication of the line size or actual location of it. And no markers placed (that I have seen) upon their departure either. On the tree thing, in my case there are several birch trees along the road here that I would be more than happy for PG&E to come get... pretty, but messy messy trees! [Note: IMO if PG&E has a problem with them, they shall pay for their removal if it is deemed necessary for them to go]
Chris Kapsalis April 27, 2014 at 12:36 PM
There are pipes just about everywhere underground. Some larger than others. Just the way our civilization is. My Main concern is when the big one hits, and what may happen. Not only to all these pipe lines carrying explosive gas, fuel, you name it, but trains carrying the same and refineries. We have 7 refineries on the Bay Area on major fault lines for example. If the wrong type of earthquake happens, big enough, all hell is going to break lose in the Bay Area and not much we can do to prevent it. I think 7 million people live in the Bay Area. We could be looking at loss of life in the millions in the worst case scenario. But it is us. Our way of life. Our entire economy is based on fossil fuel... We have to start the process Now to convert to a cleaner and less Dangerous fuel source. And renewable. We can do it, but we are dragging our feet. Anyway, I do understand PGE and others have to maintain and do the best they can to make sure the pipelines are safe. But this does not mean they can do whatever they want. Esp if it is to save money and not trees etc.....

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