Trees Getting in the Way of Utility Lines: Whose Responsibility is it?
August 13, 2018
Tree laws and regulations are some of the most challenging laws to understand. Add in the utility companies, and it gets even foggier. So, whose problem is it really when trees infringe on power lines or other utilities?
As a homeowner, trees that have been planted too close to power lines can cause a problem for more than just you. If a large storm knocks down branches and wires in the process, your tree may cause a power outage for your entire neighborhood, especially if the tree has not been maintained over time. Trees that aren’t pruned properly are more likely to lose branches in storms, high winds, or heavy rain; creating more hazards for you and your neighbors.
To mitigate this safety risk, electric service providers often perform pruning to trees that grow close to power lines. But that pruning is done to clear the lines - not for the health of the tree. So you probably won’t like the results. Trees that have not been maintained over time and grow too close to power lines, or were planted in the wrong place to begin with, could be topped, severely pruned, or even removed against your will. And there’s not really anything you can do to stop it once things reach this stage.
Know the law: Power lines in DFW
In order to save your trees from topping or extreme canopy removal, tree limbs must be regularly maintained 10 feet from the primary pole-to-pole electric wires and 7 feet away from open secondary wires. Once your tree encroaches into that space, you will no longer be able to directly hire a professional tree service to perform the pruning to your preferences --you’ll need to contact your electricity provider.
Once you contact your utility provider, they in turn will contact Oncor and their preferred tree pruning contractor (called a Vegetation Management Contractor, or VMC). The VCM will perform a “Make Ready Prune”. This simply means they will cut all limbs back to the regulation distance, or cut down the entire tree, if necessary. While Oncor does not charge for this service, the VCM will leave all debris on your property--meaning clearing the debris is your responsibility.
Keep in mind: Companies like PTS are not allowed to perform Make Ready Prunes unless specifically contracted by Oncor. We will not be allowed to prune your tree out of the power lines unless Oncor contracts us directly to do so. Typically, cities already hold a contract with one provider who will do all the work.
If you do require additional shaping and cleaning of trees or debris removal after the VCM performs necessary pruning, that’s when we can help. But we’d prefer to make sure your tree is properly maintained before the utility company takes over.
Right Tree, Right Place
In lots of cases, you didn’t plant the offending tree that was planted too close to power lines - you might have just inherited it when you bought your home. But, if you are starting from scratch on your property, it is important to place the right tree in the right place.
Fall is the best time to plant new trees in Texas!
You may not be aware, but easements are technically city property, which means there are restrictions to what can be planted in the location. Driving sightlines and access to utilities must be taken into consideration. Also, the city can do any cut backs or removal of any trees you plant in your easement, without your permission.
While you should never plant a large tree such as a live oak, magnolia, or pecan in your easement, there are plenty of smaller trees and large shrubs you can plant. Just make sure to choose trees and shrubs that are in the 15-foot or shorter range to avoid power line entanglements.
While no one loves seeing an established tree hacked to pieces to make way for power lines, it is necessary to keep utilities functional. The best way to prevent your tree from being heavily pruned against your will is to have skilled, preventative pruning performed and choose the right trees for your location. Give us a call for tree selection and planting assistance.