Cut out West Ashley tree butchering

SCE&G's tree cutting along Old Towne Road in West Ashley near Charles Towne Landing has left this unsightly result. (Leroy Burnell/Staff)

As the city of Charleston struggles with a plan for an aesthetically acceptable gateway to West Ashley, SCE&G is going in the opposite direction with the heavy-handed trimming of trees along Old Towne Road.

Actually, much of the work under way would be more accurately described as amputation.

As a city that treasures its beauty and its history, Charleston ought to insist on something better. After all, SCE&G operates under a franchise agreement with the city.

Why can’t officials require more from the utility on a project that is damaging the appearance of a major corridor into the city?

That’s particularly the case along the entrance of Charles Towne Landing.

The state park along the Ashley River includes the site of Charleston’s first settlement of colonists, and its extensive grounds include history, rich natural habitat and walking and biking paths. It is a jewel among state parks.

The tree work at the entrance of the park, however, will hardly serve as an inducement to visitors. Live oaks have similarly been gashed farther toward the peninsula along St. Andrews Boulevard.

SCE&G officials have described the utility’s tree-trimming methods as “best practices,” but appearances indicate something less than “better” or even “good.” How about “worse”?

There are alternatives to the flat tops and the V-cuts that the utility company periodically visits upon the roadside trees along those streets with overhead power lines.

Unobtrusive tunnel cuts are more difficult and more costly but they can be done, and are certainly warranted where scenic quality is valued.

Or better yet, put the utility lines underground. It would resolve the appearance issue, and would have the added benefit of ensuring that electrical power won’t be lost during bad weather, like a hurricane.

SCE&G might argue against the expense of underground installation, but it sure manages to find plenty of money for other projects, like the two nuclear power reactors that just keep getting more and more expensive.

At the least, some pro bono landscaping would help improve the utility company’s public relations with customers who continue to see their power rates go up on a regular basis.

The community’s interest in improving the appearance of West Ashley is evident in the ongoing debate over what should replace the old Piggly Wiggly near the intersection of Old Towne Road and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.

Neighborhood associations and City Council should put the preservation of roadside trees on their priority agenda for West Ashley.

Again, there’s got to be a better way.