Tree work aims to prevent power outages in Santa Cruz County

By Stephen Baxter

BOULDER CREEK >> The patter of rain on Acorn Drive was interrupted by the faint buzz of chain saws this week, as a tree crew contracted by PG&E Co. trimmed tree limbs and cut down at least five dying tan oaks near overhead power lines.

To help prevent power outages during winter storms, the work was initiated by PG&E and approved by 52-year-old resident Joseph Williams.

Williams said that five rotting, ivy-strangled 100-foot trees near his driveway were likely to fall on the lines, cutting power and potentially damaging his house.

“Before they fall and knock everybody’s power out, let’s take care of it,” Williams said.

In preparation for El Niño-strength storms this winter, PG&E representatives said they want homeowners to report dead and dying trees near power lines.

“The thing that’s unique about the Santa Cruz Mountains is that because there is so much vegetation, this work is extremely necessary not just to prevent outages when storms hit, but also to prevent fires,” said PG&E spokeswoman Mayra Tostado.

As Tostado looked up at 100-foot redwoods on Acorn Drive, she noted that branches above the power lines can fall and start fires. The narrow, winding road below is crammed with homes.

“A little spark here can cause a lot of damage,” Tostado said.

The utility’s tree inspectors constantly scout the system’s power lines for overgrown trees in part because of a government mandate to minimize hazards along the lines. The work is also done to increase power reliability.

Most of the tree work is initiated by PG&E, but Tostado encouraged residents to call 800-743-5000 to report limbs near power lines.

Residents can differentiate power lines from phone and communication lines because they are usually higher on poles and sometimes have high-voltage signs near them, she said. The tree work typically is done without cost to the homeowner.

This year, 16 crews from The Davey Tree Expert Co., a PG&E contractor, have trimmed trees and cut down dead and dying trees near power lines in Lompico, Felton and other areas of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Williams, the homeowner on Acorn Drive, said it took about 10 days from a PG&E tree inspector’s visit to Monday, when the tree crew first arrived to start work. The job on the 100 to 300 blocks of Acorn Drive is expected to continue next week.

Tuesday, a truck with a 70-foot boom lifted two men in a bucket to trim tree limbs. One man operated the bucket to position it near the tree, while the trimmer used a long chain saw to expertly cut off branches and drop them on the road.

“These guys did a concise and correct job,” said Williams, who runs a plastering crew.

“They’re really good at their job, and they’re very personable.”

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