Tree trimming temporarily stops in Columbia neighborhood

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - In some of Columbia's oldest neighborhoods, it's quiet tonight.  There are no sounds of buzzsaws.

The saws have been silenced temporarily as local government leaders, their lawyers and SCE&G officials work on new rules that will apply to the way trees are trimmed.

You see it almost everywhere you look in Columbia's Shandon neighborhood. There are big, old trees making direct contact with utility lines. But are buzzsaws the answer to the problem?

On South Queen Street, there's one large tree carved into what sort of looks like a football goalpost. It's to clear power lines running through the branches.

Homeowner Kevin Avant has dealt with something similar at his home in the Rosewood area. "I think five years ago they came back and trimmed it, and it was a little bit neater than the way it is now," said Avant. "But now they totally messed it up."

In fact, neighbors who happen to include a number of influential city, county and state elected officials lodged so many complaints with the utility that SCE&G agreed to suspend operations. There was no cutting going on in Shandon Friday. Instead, there was a summit at City Hall.

Those government leaders and a few ticked-off homeowners were making it clear to company vice president Kellar Kissam that they want a gentler approach to tree trimming. "My constituents, most of them expressed outrage," said Dr. Belinda Gergel of Columbia City Council. "And I expect that we address these issues of aesthetics and neighborhood character. These trees are very important parts of the fabric of our neighborhoods."

Critics of the cutting done this week said they do understand the utility needs to try to prevent power outages caused by limbs falling on lines. "It's very important that they cut because we don't want to lose power," said Representative James Smith of Richland. "We want to make sure winter storms or storms otherwise that we continue to have power on. And it's a matter of simply balancing that interest also with quality of life interests and the value of these trees.

Was the company doing anything wrong? "No. I don't think so," said Columbia City Manager Steve Gantt. "I think what they were doing is of course safety is a prime issue with SCE&G and making sure that they have the ability to provide power. If we have inclement weather is another major concern that they have."

Scana Vice President Kissam reminded those at Friday's meeting about what's happened in previous storms. There was one in particular where 95% of the power outages were caused by downed trees and vegetation.

Attorneys for the city and the utility are working on new specifications for tree cutting.

The trimming won't resume until Monday at the earliest.

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