Hockey team stumbles, and frustration mounts

USA's Zach Parise (center) celebrates during the Americans' 5-3 victory over Canada in men's hockey on Sunday night in Vancouver.

Bruce Bennett

Frank Gordon had just sat down to a breakfast of sausage and eggs at 8 a.m. Wednesday when two employees of Lewis Tree Service and two Charleston police officers knocked on his door.

Gordon, 73, who has lived in his house for 25 years, knew right away what was going down. He left his coffee on the table and rushed outside.

"I was trying to figure out which tree to sit under and finally just had to pick one (of two)," he said. "If I had known they were coming today, I would have got a chain and chained myself to the tree, but I didn't have time to get one.

"I wish I had somebody to sit under the other tree. I was just under- manned here. They had me outgunned and they knew it."

Gordon said he has been battling South Carolina Electric and Gas since 1996 over the trees, which he thinks are on his Wappoo Road property and which SCE&G said are in the easement.

The West Ashley Greenway runs alongside his home.

He sat under the tree for three hours while seven tree-trimming trucks and 16 employees in hard hats trimmed other trees nearby and waited for Gordon to move.

"I fully expected to go to jail today," said Gordon, a retired engineer. "They came en masse and brought the cops with them."

After a three-hour sit-in under a pine tree, Gordon finally agreed to a compromise with SCE&G over the trimming of the trees he said provide shade for his home.

Charleston Deputy Police Chief Anthony Elder was able to work out an agreement between Gordon and the utility that would allow the cutting of limbs that were within five feet of the power lines, and a court will decide whether the trees are on Gordon's property or the city's.

"In the interest of settling this, we were able to convince SCE&G to do minimal pruning until we can resolve the issue," said Danny Burbage, superintendent for urban forestry for the City of Charleston, who also was at the scene.

Burbage said the trees, pines and sweetgums, likely would be removed if Gordon did not protest.

"Once they are pruned, there is so little left that they die," he said. "Pines and sweetgums don't respond well to pruning."

Gordon said he waged his battle "because I want these trees to be here forever."

Over the years, Gordon has shown crews where to trim the trees, or he convinced them not to prune at all. He said he would not have a problem if they were only trimmed slightly.

"What does 'trim' mean?" he said. "The problem is they don't want to come back for 20 years."

SCE&G officials said tree-trimming is on a five-year cycle and is necessary to keep lines clear of vegetation. The Public Service Commission of South Carolina requires such maintenance on a regular basis.

"The five-year cycle is consistent across our service territory," said Kim Asbill, public affairs specialist for SCE&G. "The area off Wappoo Road is scheduled for its regular tree trimming as part of this cycle. There is also a pine tree that is burning in the power lines at this location."

Asbill said there are two electric circuits in the area; one services about 1,000 customers and the other "many thousands" of customers.

Five of six trees scheduled for removal in the area were taken down Wednesday, three on a lot with an empty house behind Gordon's and two on his property.

"They cut down a small one I didn't care about and the one they had already butchered," he said. "I hated to lose that tree. I had protected it for 24 years. But the tree I was sitting under is still standing."

Asbill said SCE&G will continue to try to remove the last tree.

"We will pursue additional measures to get the sixth tree, a pine tree, taken out," she said. "This will include additional survey work. Based on what we know at this location from previous survey work, we don't believe Mr. Gordon owns the property where this sixth tree is located. We believe it is Greenway property. He thinks one thing and we think the other."

Gordon has doubts whether the issue will make it to court.

"I'm waiting to see when they're going to take me to court, but I don't think it will ever happen," he said. "They'll try to sneak back in here when I'm not here and cut that other tree, so it won't ever get to court. But I'd like it to. I'd like a court of law to tell me what the law is."

He said he felt like he stood up for a lot of people by taking a seat under the tree.

"A lot of people complain about the trimming, but by the time they do, it's too late and the trees have already been cut," he said. "I managed to stop one today."

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or on Facebook.