Tree trimming gone awry in historic district

Residents heated for
several reasons

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

If last month’s 90 degree temperatures are any indication, residents in 5 Points are going to get hotter. As if they were not already hot under the collar over the JEA’s recent tree trimming initiatives.

An example of poorly trimmed trees

An example of poorly trimmed trees

Seems that every two years or so, the shade trees lining the streets in the 5 Points area, are scheduled for trimming around power lines to reduce potential outages when branches touch the lines.Normally the process calls for notification to the residents on the designated streets. Unfortunately, the landscape contractor began trimming – butchering, according to residents – the trees prior to door hangers being distributed.

The issue, according to resident Paul Bremer, who is also on the board of City Beautiful, is that national standards are not acceptable in historic districts.
“The homes here are on very small lots, set close to the street. The trees provide significant shade for the homes,” Bremer said. “But butchering the tree canopies does major damage to the trees.” Reducing the shade also increases the energy consumption from air conditioning, and it’s unsightly as well. Bremer calls the victims “alphabet trees” for the vee-shaped notches that are created when huge sections of branches are removed. In addition, improperly trimmed trees can become unbalanced and vulnerable to wind damage.

According to Bremer, there are other alternatives that have been proposed to the JEA.
The first is converting to underground utilities but, says Bremer, “the JEA screams at the expense.”

Neighborhoods can choose to be charged for underground utilities, which reduces maintenance and the costs associated with repairing outages. Going underground will pay for itself in about 15 years, noted Bremer.

The second alternative is aerial bundled cables (ABCs), which has a much shorter return on investment, less than five years. Bundled cables are insulated to protect them from tree branches, and the technology has improved since the 1970-80s when the JEA had bad experiences with ABCs.

Bremer said it’s worth noting that tree trimming, according to national standards, costs $2,495 per mile of power line and there are 3,500 miles of power lines in Duval County, although certainly not every mile of line is surrounded by trees.

The current contracted service is through Trees, Inc. According to Bremer, many of those employees were with Lewis Tree Service, who held the last contract. “They may know how to operate the equipment but when it comes to trimming trees they vaguely follow the guidelines,” he said. “Even if they were cutting to national guidelines, it’s not
acceptable.”

The tree trimming remaining in that area was suspended immediately upon request by Councilmember-at-Large Robin Lumb.  A response from JEA’s CEO Paul McElroy said they would look into alternatives, and get back to the Riverside Avondale Preservation Society as soon as possible. William Brinton, president of City Beautiful Jacksonville, is also looking into previous studies regarding utility undergrounding.

In the meantime, residents like Bremer and Lumb, will be trying to keep cool this summer without the benefit of nature’s shade.

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