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Date of Issue: March 15, 2007

FPL clearing lines, trimming trees

fpl trimming pic
A stump is all that remains of the black olive tree that shaded a front yard in the 500 block of 74th Street in Holmes Beach. The tree was removed after a crew contracted by Florida Power & Light trimmed it from the power lines. The homeowners say the tree didn't threaten the lines and the trimming damaged it so it needed to be removed. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Holmes Beach homeowners Pat and Austin Rice were stumped on their return home after a day trip to Punta Gorda.

They say a crew contracted by Florida Power & Light had so damaged a black olive tree in their front yard that it needed to be removed.

They now want other property owners to know about the tree-trimming process and how to safeguard against damage. They don't want others to get stumped.

"If you have some trees, don't just say ‘yes' to trimming," Austin Rice said from his home in the 500 block of 74th Street last week. "If you say ‘yes,' say ‘we want to know exactly what you're going to do.'"

Over the last several weeks, FPL has notified property owners and city officials that line clearing in preparation for the 2007 storm season has begun in Holmes Beach.

"Trees which have overgrown and may make contact with our power lines will be trimmed away from the lines or removed entirely," reads the letter. "This is a very important proactive maintenance program that helps prevent outages to your electrical service. Your support in allowing us access to trees that are on your property is essential to help prevent lengthy interruptions that are caused by trees and other vegetation, especially during windy weather."

FPL's external affairs manager, Mel Klein, summed up the effort saying the utility's top priority is to keep the lights on.

 The line-clearing work is part of FPL's "Storm Secure" program created after the hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005.

FPL launched "Storm Secure" in 2006 and has inspected about 96,000 poles and trimmed vegetation along 11,000 miles of power lines.

This year, FPL plans to inspect about 500 poles a day in the state.

Meanwhile, the budget for clearing vegetation from lines has increased more than $15 million from 2006 to $65 million this year. A budget specifically for the Island work could not be calculated, Klein said.

He said the bulk of the Island work would take place along lines in Holmes Beach and then in Bradenton Beach. Anna Maria City saw trimming last spring — what Klein described as a "feeder" trim because of the type of lines cleared.

The primary contractor for the work is Asplundh Tree Expert Co. "They are a nationwide company," Klein said. "They've been working for FPL for a number of years."

He said the contractors consider the tree species, growth rates, the tree's health and the location to the power lines before trimming.

"We may remove entire branches that are growing toward the lines and branches that could re-sprout and grow toward the lines," reads a statement at FPL's Web site. "Branches growing away from power lines are usually not trimmed."

The trimmers use a technique endorsed by the National Arbor Day Foundation and the International Society of Arboriculture called "directional pruning" to reduce the stress placed on trees.

"We use standards," Klein said.

As an Asplundh crew trimmed trees along Palm Drive in Holmes Beach last week, some residents watched and had no complaints. Some said the trimmers worked with precision.

"They aren't required to be landscapers, but I think my yard looks better than ever," said Patsy Metcalf, a Palm Drive resident.

No complaints about trimming have been filed with city hall's public works department, according to public works superintendent Joe Duennes. Nor have any complaints been registered with the city's parks and beautification committee.

But FPL received at least one complaint — from the Rices.

The couple said they understand the need for trimming, they just don't understand what happened to their olive tree.

"They just came in and ‘whack, whack,'" said Pat Rice. "It wasn't hurting the power lines at all."

"Every year we trim them," Austin Rice said.

He said a contractor came to the house on Feb. 25 and said a crew would need to trim on Feb. 26.

The Rices agreed, but the crew didn't arrive on Feb. 26.

The next day, the Rices left Holmes Beach for a visit to Punta Gorda. Austin Rice remembers seeing the orange Asplundh trucks on the road headed for Anna Maria Island.

When the couple returned home, two of the three olive trees had been "trimmed" — one had been trimmed of about a quarter of its leaves and branches.

A complaint was registered with FPL and several days later, on a Saturday, a crew returned to the Rices' yard to rectify the complaint.

"The only thing left to do was cut it down," Austin Rice said.

Klein said pruning can impact the appearance of trees and FPL tries to work with property owners to take a tree down if that's preferred.

"Sometimes, if you've got a palm and it's under a line, it's topped," Klein said. "It will come back, but some people will say to us they'd rather see the tree gone. We work with them."

Austin Rice, on March 9, looked at a photograph taken at Christmas several years ago showing a neat line of three well-rounded trees. Outside his window two olive trees remained and there is a dirt circle where the third tree once stood.

He said the trimming team worked hard to remove the tree and trimmed the remaining two in an effort to create balance.

But the stump, which the crew couldn't remove, was left behind.


The line on FPL's tree-trimming

  • Florida Power & Light has trees and other vegetation trimmed away from power lines to protect against outages, especially in storms.
  • Crews are trained to use a practice called “directional pruning” to reduce stress and are to take into consideration the type of tree, the health and the location when pruning.
  • Crews are not directed to “shape” trees, but they are directed to move trimmings to the curb and take away any debris.
  • Homeowners should receive notice of trimming about two weeks before crews arrive in their neighborhood.
  • FPL has the right to ingress and egress private property to maintain electric facilities and provide safe and reliable service.
  • There is no charge for the pruning and people asked for compensation should call 800-226-3545.
  • FPL cautions residents against trying to trim trees away from power lines.
  • FPL offers advice on trees suitable for planting near overhead power lines and offers a free mulch program.
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