When Katy Ehrhart and her family moved to Parker County from Fort Worth last year, the abundant trees were one of her favorite things about the new surroundings.
So recently, when she saw Oncor contractors trimming large trees that line Old Annetta Road, Ehrhart was not happy.
“It’s one of the most beautiful drives and they just completely butchered all of the trees,” Ehrhart said.
She understands that Oncor has a responsibility to keep trees away from power lines, but became even more frustrated when workers began cutting back trees in the front yard of her home.
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“They’re ruining the landscape out here,” Ehrhart said.“They’re cutting 10 feet away from the power lines and I really think in general that’s too much.”
Oncor is an electric delivery utility that is responsible for maintaining 118,000 miles of transmission and distribution lines across Texas. The trimming of trees and branches — called vegetation management — is critical in preventing power outages from happening, said Oncor spokesman Kris Spears, especially in the event of ice storms or thunderstorms.
The latter occurred early Wednesday in North Texas, when straight-line winds and tornadoes knocked down trees and power lines, leaving more than 210,000 customers without power.
“Trees and power lines do not mix,” Spears said. “They have a devastating impact on electrical service.”
And they can be deadly.
Two Fort Worth brothers died Wednesday in Oakland Lake Park, where the storm had knocked down power lines. Alex Lopez, 12, stepped into a puddle near the downed lines and was electrocuted. When brother Isaiah, 11, tried to save him, he was electrocuted.
In a statement, Oncor said: “Our thoughts and heartfelt prayers go out to the family. We urge all our customers to treat every power line as if it’s energized.”
Oncor went back to the 10-foot trimming rule following an October 2014 wind storm that, at its peak, left 800,000 without power, and a December 2013 ice storm that had as many as 900,000 without power. Oncor nearly doubled its trimming budget in 2015, Spears said, after complaints about those disruptions to service.
But the complaints are often about the actual trimming of trees.
“My husband planted the tree himself,” Juanita Erwin told WFAA. “Grew it from an acorn.”
In some areas, Oncor can give a homeowner the option to move or bury a power line at the customer’s expense but it probably won’t be cheap. Spears said the cost varies on a case-by-case basis.
A homeowner can also hire a tree trimmer certified to work around power lines but that doesn’t guarantee that Oncor crews won’t do additional trimming when they come through a neighborhood.
On average, crews trim trees about every five years. Oncor also encourages concerned customers to check its website and reach out on social media.
“I would say take advantage of the information left on your door by our notification folks and give us a call,” Spears said. “Don’t be afraid to look us up ... and let’s start a conversation on social media.”