Charleston residents west of the Ashley River are frustrated with recent tree pruning by the local power utility, but it turns out South Carolina Electric & Gas may not have been allowed to conduct the trimming at all.
Attorney Thomas Rode represents the Old Windermere Neighborhood Association and said residents in the area have been wary of cutting as SCE&G conducts its regular work to make sure power lines aren't imperiled by tree limbs. Primarily, he said, residents are concerned that the power company is cutting protected grand trees more than is allowed by the city's ordinance.
"We’re looking to strike the balance between what's good for the trees but also what's good for maintaining power, for maintaining safety," he said.
West Ashley pruning started in June of 2018, and there is only about one mile of work left, said Paul Fischer, a spokesman for SCE&G's holding company. The next project will involve James and Johns Islands and includes 70 miles of trimming.
He said trees are inspected before and after trimming.
"We respect and appreciate the emotion and passion that often accompanies a discussion of tree trimming in the Lowcountry," Fischer wrote in an email. "The safety of our customers and our crews, as well as the reliability and resiliency of our system, continue to be our main priorities."
Charleston's tree regulations require that the city and the utility have an agreement allowing SCE&G to do the maintenance work, Rode said. When he asked for that document under the Freedom of Information Act, he found that it expired in the early 1990s.
After the city was alerted, he said, “they were very proactive in putting a pause on this to try and figure things out."
City Attorney Susan Herdina asked SCE&G to stop all trimming on Monday.
The city is currently doing a review of its agreements with the company, but Herdina said its unclear what the implications of the expired agreement are.
"That was before my time, so I do not know all of the circumstances under which the agreement was entered into and what it was intended to cover," she said. "We are certainly hoping to be able to work out an agreement going forward that assures the city there is in compliance with the guidelines and every opportunity is made to preserve the trees that can be made."
State Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, is also filing a bill in the General Assembly that would require a trained arborist with at least an associate's degree to supervise cutting crews, she said.
Herdina and Rode both said they were unaware of any cutting since Monday. However, a crew showed up on Fenwick Drive Wednesday morning prepared to cut. Mayor John Tecklenburg, who lives on the street, came out with several other neighbors to talk to the work crews.
After several calls between the city, Rode and the utility, the crew was stopped from sawing.
For residents of Old Windermere, the grand live oaks that line the streets are a special draw, said Claire Xidis, who has lived on Beverly Road for more than two years.
"We have a number of grand trees in the neighborhood and those trees, I think a lot of residents really consider them a natural resource for our neighborhood and a huge part of the character of our neighborhood," she said. "They create a huge canopy and I think are an especially unique feature of where we live."