FORT WORTH — At first, Sharon Austry and her neighbors thought the tree trimmers in Meadows West Park were going to trim a few trees and clear away a little brush.So Austry and others were stunned when the lush forest they enjoyed — one that provided shade as they walked their dogs and jogged along the Clear Fork of the Trinity River — was being reduced to stubble and stumps.“It’s enough to make you sick,” said Austry, who has lived in the southwest Fort Worth neighborhood for 30 years. “They are taking trees that are hanging over the river and nowhere near power lines.”Oncor Electric Delivery began cutting the trees in late August in an easement that is 800 feet long and 75 feet wide. Oncor spokesman Kris Spears said the company had to cut the trees by hand because of the steep, rough terrain and the proximity to two creeks.“It is a tedious process,” he said.The utility said the area is considered a “hot spot” because the trees growing within the easement were touching the power lines, raising the risk of fire. “We are clearing the river bottom. The trees are not native, and some are invasive,” Spears said.Oncor is also following federal and state mandates to eliminate vegetation that could interfere with high-voltage transmission lines, he said. The lines — on metal towers — provide electricity to a broad area and are different from those that supply power to neighborhoods and individual homes.The regulations were put in place after a massive blackout in August 2003 left 50 million people in the northeastern U.S. and Canada in the dark for days.“When we cut down trees, our standards for our easements and our rights of way are mandated by federal regulations,” he said.Melinda Adams, a city forester, said Fort Worth has no authority over how Oncor handles trees in the utility easement.Mary Jane “M.J.” Martinez, who lives nearby and walks her golden retriever in the park, said she and others are concerned about the tree cutting.Martinez said the trees provided a safety barrier on the walking trails, keeping people from slipping into the river if they fell. The trees also blocked noise from nearby Interstate 20 and gas wells in Benbrook.Martinez said she also worries about erosion because nothing is holding soil in place.“It looks like a bomb went off. They [Oncor] went beyond what is necessary,” Martinez said.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz