Tree lovers argue Seattle City Light cutting too aggressively near power lines

Mar 6, 2017, 5:55 AM
Seattle City Light, power lines...
A tree advocacy group believes Seattle City Light workers have become more aggressive with cutting trees near power lines. (Seattle City Light)
(Seattle City Light)

Lance Young says he’s always been a tree lover. But he became an active defender of them after moving into a Shoreline neighborhood along the Interurban trail and finding a note on his door from Seattle City Light about the majestic trees towering over his backyard.

Related: Seattle attorney says cutting down 150 trees is definitely not a mistake

The note said the utility would be doing some regular “cycle pruning.”

“So I called and said ‘what’s regular cycle pruning mean?’ And they said, ‘Oh, well we’re actually going to remove all the trees on our property out there.’  And we said, ‘No, we don’t want you to do that,” Young said.

That led Young and some neighbors to launch the Interurban Trail Tree Preservation Society.

After a series of petitions, meetings and tough negotiations, the group forged an agreement with City Light to save the trees — and prompted Young and others to start looking at how City Light handles trees across its vast network.

After examining a number of reports, studies and analyses, Young says he found City Light had recently become far more aggressive in how it cuts trees around power lines than other utilities in the areas. And while he says he fully supports keeping the power grid safe and functioning, he and other tree advocates worry City Light is going way too far.

“Right now they’re taking double what they used to in past years,” Young said. “And that just makes no sense at all.”

Seattle City Light responds

City Light strongly disagrees with Young’s assessment.

“We love our trees and at the same time, we also know our top priorities are ensuring electrical safety and reliability and to protect the health of the trees,” said City Light spokesman Tyson Lin.

Lin says the utility has a large team of experts that oversee the vegetation management — and they’re as much a bunch of tree-huggers as Young.

All of the crew members and contractors who work for the utility are certified arborists with the International Society of Arboriculture, according to Lin.

“They definitely do care about trees,” Lin said

And Lin insists the utility follows all industry standards from various organizations and comply with state law.

It’s a huge undertaking. City light maintains more than 300,000 trees that could impact power lines adjacent to 1,700 miles of distribution power lines serving Seattle, Burien, Lake Forest Park, Normandy Park, Renton, Shoreline, Seatac, Tukwila and unincorporated King County.

But Young argues the utility has become unnecessarily aggressive and worries that could lead to the outright destruction of many trees across the area.

And he says despite a number of calls and letters, the utility has ignored him. That’s why he’s launched a new public awareness campaign in hopes of putting more pressure on City Light.

He says the timing couldn’t be more critical — and meaningful.

His latest public awareness push comes just weeks after beloved Seattle tree and open space defender Cass Turnbull died of a heart attack.

Turnbull, the founder of Seattle’s Plant Amnesty and a noted author, had become a recent critic of City Light’s more aggressive pruning methods, writing a letter to the utility last fall blasting its seemingly new standards.

“If we can hit a balance that’s appropriate, which should at least be no more than we’ve been doing over the past 10years when we had the old hedge pruning techniques, then we maintain the trees maintain the trees as they’ve been for decades around here,” Young said.

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Tree lovers argue Seattle City Light cutting too aggressively near power lines