Dominion Energy may have taken over SCE&G, but some things haven’t changed.
For instance, the utility is obviously still tossing all its tree trimming work to Freddy Krueger.
In the past couple of months, the power line posse has sparked a nightmare on Farmfield streets and gone all Savannah Highway chainsaw massacre between Wesley Drive and Byrnes Downs. One morning last week, Mayor John Tecklenburg practically had to throw himself in front of some slasher in Old Windermere.
Now, South Carolina Electric & Gas is again threatening to slice and dice James Island’s Riverland Terrace — home to perhaps the most gorgeous live oak canopy in the Lowcountry.
It has gotten so ridiculous that the city asked the utility to hold up on the butchery while arborists check to see if SCE&G has complied with local ordinances. The results are due this week ... as if there’s any doubt.
By all rights, this sloppy, aesthetics-be-damned approach should be a crime. But in truth, there’s very little the city — or county — can do.
Charleston’s tree trimming ordinance expired years ago, but that doesn’t matter as policing utilities falls to state regulators. You know, the people who allowed SCE&G’s former owners to bill us for nuclear plants they didn’t build ... and Dominion to keep charging us.
This has been going on for years, of course, and has much to do with the company treating live oaks and other grand trees the same as, say, pine trees. SCE&G will tell you it’s all about safety and the reliability of the system.
It’s true that people would be screaming more loudly if they didn’t have electricity, but time and again the utility has shown itself more interested in cheap fixes than actually being a good neighbor. And that’s simply not right.
Troy Miller, president of the Riverland Terrace Neighborhood Association, has been dealing with this horror show for years. The neighborhood has asked to bury the power lines, which would be ideal, but expensive. And since three-quarters of the neighborhood lies in the county, which has no franchise agreement with SCE&G to help pay for the work, it may be a nonstarter.
A couple of years ago, Riverland Terrace got SCE&G to holster the hacksaws, but now the company plans to return in anticipation of upgrading electrical service in the neighborhood. Residents have responded by tying yellow ribbons around most of the trees and posting signs that say “SCE&G, don’t destroy the Terrace trees.”
County Councilwoman Jenny Costa Honeycutt says it’s beyond frustrating.
“Charleston’s historic grand oaks are some of our most iconic natural resources,” she says. “We were hopeful SCE&G would reconsider the necessity of trimming in Riverland Terrace in light of the imminent high priority system upgrade. However, SCE&G has thus far refused.”
The residents are not unreasonable. Miller says he’s simply looking for a solution that will help everyone in the Lowcountry. He’s suggested raising the wires above the tree line or moving the power lines behind the houses. As a show of good faith, the neighborhood even offered to buy land to accommodate SCE&G’s slated system upgrade.
Despite all that goodwill, they get nowhere.
“I’ve got to believe there’s a better solution,” Miller says. “Even planning their cuts would be an improvement.”
That’s what the city would like to see, and something state Sen. Sandy Senn wants to write into law. She has proposed legislation that would require the utility to have arborists on hand during any cutting to make sure contractors aren’t just letting the chainsaws rip as they see fit.
“It is clear from their work product that the folks ‘trimming’ the trees are not true arborists,” Senn says. “If they are, then we need to redefine the qualifications of arborists.”
You’d think that, given their recent image problems, the utility would be interested in at least looking like the good guys on occasion. You know, instead of a monopoly that’s only concerned with the cheapest and easiest fix, no matter what the cost to Charleston’s natural beauty.
But once again, it looks like SCE&G can’t see the trees for that forest of money.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.