In Bradenton alone, Hurricane Irma toppled and uprooted about 100 trees that grow alongside city streets in close proximity to overhead power lines. Many more fell during the storm, but it’s those trees and the countless number of branches that fell on power lines that have some officials hoping it was a lesson learned.
But whose responsibility is it when a tree falls onto city property or when branches encroach nearby power lines? If the tree is on private property, it’s the homeowner’s responsibility.
When a tree falls into a city utility easement, “They think it’s our problem,” said Bradenton Public Works Director Jim McLellan. “It’s not our problem. It’s your tree.”
It’s the same for branches growing near power lines, but it can become a more complex problem better avoided by homeowners trimming their trees before an issue is created. Florida Power & Light trims about 15,000 miles of power lines each year across the state. However, even with a regularly scheduled maintenance plan, it’s not difficult to find branches across Manatee County growing over power lines.
FPL offers an alternative plan. Don’t find yourself in that position in the first place. FPL’s “Right Tree, Right Place” guideline gives tips on where and how to plant various sizes of trees from where existing power lines are. It’s a philosophy Bradenton is going to start taking seriously as well, post Irma.
There will be more trees come down during the next storm with any kind of wind.
Bradenton Public Works Director Jim McLellan
Bradenton Planning and Community Development Director Catherine Hartley said the city will begin rethinking how trees are used in landscape plans for future developments. She has already rejected one development’s proposal to plant live oaks in a 3-foot utility easement.
“Things like that are just not going to happen,” she said. “Right tree, right place.”
McLellan said the majority of the trees that fell during Irma were oak trees, although, “There were many species.” He continued to urge caution in the coming days and weeks as Irma may have many trees still on the verge of falling.
“There will be more trees come down during the next storm with any kind of wind,” he said.
What the cities can do for future storms
Manatee County and the cities have tree ordinances that address overhanging branches that potentially pose a hazard to public spaces like sidewalks and roads. Bradenton, for example, will notify the homeowner of their responsibility and if it isn’t addressed, has the authority to trim the tree and then bill the homeowner. None of the ordinances in local municipalities address power lines, however.
Hartley said the city would like to better work in conjunction with FPL. Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said FPL wants to do just that.
“They have a regular process, but they want to work with us to expand that,” Bryant said. “They specifically told us that there is an opportunity to expand their trimming program, if the community wants it, and we do. They are especially interested in areas like Bradenton and Palmetto and are working aggressively toward their trimming program in more dense areas like ours that have older trees.”
Trim trees before they encroach on a power line
While it is a homeowner’s responsibility to trim trees before they reach a power line, do not ever attempt to trim branches that are near or on the lines. From 2009-2013 there were 408 fatalities within the tree trimming industry, with 17 percent of those deaths being from electrocution. Tree trimming is not for amateurs in the first place, but that is particularly true for trimming near power lines.
“Never attempt to trim any vegetation growing on or near power lines,” FPL’s website states. “Only specially trained line-clearing professionals should work around power lines. Check your local listings to locate a contractor qualified to trim vegetation around power lines. ... Do not wait for a hurricane or any other major event as the debris from the trimming may become dangerous with storm-force winds.”