Tree trimming raises ire of Winter Garden mayor, citizens

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  • | 6:04 p.m. June 23, 2015
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WINTER GARDEN — It takes a lot to get Winter Garden Mayor John Rees upset. A recent visit to his neighborhood from Duke Energy’s tree trimming crews did the trick.

During a recent City Commission meeting, Rees expressed his disappointment with the way the trees looked after Duke’s crews were finished. He said those crews were “butchering” the trees.

“I realize they need to cut the trees back off the power lines,” he said. “I’m just looking for a happy medium.” 

Rees called Duke Energy to complain, but one week after his initial call, he still had not spoken to anyone from Duke.

Although complaints regarding the aesthetics of trimmed trees are a regular occurrence, Duke officials say they employ processes that are safe both for residents and for the trees.

Suzanne Grant, spokeswoman for Duke Energy Florida, said the tree cutting is work that must be done.

“Trees are the No. 1 reason we have power outages,” she said. 

Grant said Duke hires local companies to cut the trees under the supervision of professional arborists who ensure that all cutting is done properly. Even if residents don’t like the way their trees look immediately after cutting, Duke’s tree experts make sure the cutting is best for the trees in the long run, Grant said.

Its tree experts supervise a vegetation management method that uses a variety of strategies to control tree and foliage growth near power lines. The methods include planned tree pruning and removal, such as the recent cuttings in West Orange County. The company also monitors tree and vegetation growth and can use hot spot pruning and danger tree removal to eliminate immediate threats. In some circumstances, the company also mows grass and employs aerial trimming of foliage by helicopter. 

Duke employs scientific methods such as tree growth regulators, which chemically limit the directional growth of a tree so they don’t have to remove some trees near distribution lines. Duke also applies EPA-approved herbicides when necessary to prevent regrowth. 

Grant said Duke alerts residents through door hangers when it is planning to cut trees in a neighborhood. Grant said she didn’t know why it took so long for someone to respond to Rees’ complaints but would look into it.

Complaints about Duke’s tree trimming in West Orange County are not confined to Winter Garden. Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn has similar issues with trimming in his town. He received complaints about trimming along Park Avenue and Maguire Road.  

“We are a tree city,” he said. 

Bruhn said he understands that trees must be cleared up to 8 feet away from power lines and that Duke has the legal right to trim trees and brush along their routes. 

But like Rees, Bruhn would like a compromise between Duke’s needs to keep the power lines safe and unobstructed and citizens’ desires to preserve the trees they love. 

No city in Orange County bears responsibility for tree-trimming around power lines. Duke plans and supervises those efforts. Still, some citizens complain to their mayor and city commissions, thinking that their local officials can stop or change it. 

This is not the first time residents complained about tree trimming; Rees said it has been an ongoing battle for years. Duke customers and citizens in other states made similar complaints about tree trimming in their communities. 

Winter Garden city staff and Duke Energy are working to improve communication. 

“We understand that Duke has the legal right to trim the trees and is obligated to do so,” Winter Garden City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said. “However, we are meeting with their staff to find creative ways to minimize the impact on the city’s tree canopy.”


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