Duke Energy has more than 90,000 miles of overhead power lines across the Carolinas, which makes for a lot of tree-trimming to keep the lines clear – and a lot of complaints about that trimming. In Greensboro, the typical frustration is shaping into a legal battle between Duke and the city.
"Vegetation management" is the technical term for it, but residents of several old neighborhoods near downtown Greensboro use other words.
"Duke Power came in and just clear-cut the area," said Jay James at a Tuesday night meeting of the Greensboro City Council.
"The butchering of these trees is just not right," said 8th grader Graham Morphis.
"It's devastating," added Gail Barger.
That's a taste of the outrage Greensboro City Council members have been fielding at their meetings and by email.
Anger over Duke tree-trimming is common, but this time the company has crossed a group of neighborhoods that are well-connected and prone to organizing. Tuesday night, the Greensboro City Council ordered its attorney to send a cease-and-desist letter to Duke Energy. Legal wrangling may be the city's only option, since Duke's vegetation management practices are governed by state regulators.
"Nobody dreamed that Duke was going to be as aggressive as they are," says Drew Perry who lives in an historic Greensboro neighborhood similar to Dilworth in Charlotte. "We expected pruning. We understand pruning. We even probably support pruning. What we cannot support is this clear-cutting they are doing."
Duke Energy is sympathetic to the homeowners, but not apologetic.
"I don't know that our goal is to make a property owner like that we're removing their tree," says Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks. "I think our best hope is that we can help them understand why we need to do that and help them understand that the techniques we're doing really are trying to balance their interests with the needs of all of our customers."
Duke Energy has agreed to suspend trimming in the most vocal Greensboro neighborhoods through the holidays, but that may not be enough to satisfy Greensboro City Council members, some of whom say they'd be open to a lawsuit.
The city's attorney says he doubts a lawsuit would be successful, but at least the cease and desist letter sent late Wednesday will force Duke Energy to respond to the city's concerns.