The village of Waterford is being plagued by more than just high volumes of cut-through traffic. Some feel that it also lost a bit of its aesthetic appeal last week.
Power outages in the Waterford area have become more frequent during storms in the past year, to the point of having some area residents file formal complaints with Dominion Energy. But villagers aren’t happy with the utility’s efforts to address those concerns, either.
Dominion recently had the Asplundh Tree Expert Company cut back some of the trees that touch power lines within the National Historic Landmark village. But some residents are calling those cuts excessive and are concerned that Dominion too quickly set out to prevent future power outages without first taking the time to more thoroughly evaluate how the trimmings should be performed.
The trimmings have resulted in lopped-off branches and trees that have been vertically cut in half or turned into “V” shapes for power lines to cut through.
Mark Denicore, a 13-year village resident, said Asplundh showed up last week without any notice and began “trimming through years of growth,” resulting in cuts he thinks could eventually kill some of the trees.
“They just did it very aggressively,” he said. “I can’t say that I’ve seen this before in Waterford to this degree.”
He compared the work to “using a sledge hammer to kill a fly.”
Denicore said the tree trimmings also somewhat negate the community’s traffic calming efforts. In recent years, residents planted more than 100 trees along village streets after realizing that tree-lined streets would create a calming atmosphere that encourages drivers to slow down.
Denicore noted that the power outages he and his neighbors have experienced were more often than not caused by trees impacting power lines outside the village—not the lines that run past their homes.
Charles Penn, Dominion Energy’s media and community relations manager, confirmed that some of the tree-related power outages in the village were the results of trees falling on power lines that were outside the village but connected to the same circuit. “Hence, we are currently tree trimming the entire circuit,” he said.
Penn attributed increased tree growth, which ultimately led to contact with power lines and power outages, to the historic level of rainfall the region saw past year.
According to the National Weather Service, Washington, DC, received a record-breaking 66.28 inches of rainfall in 2018—nearly 5 inches more than it got in 1889, the second wettest year since 1871, and more than 2.5 feet more than it did in 2017.
Dominion met with a few village residents to get their input on the issue of frequent power outages, but Denicore said he thinks Dominion and Asplundh took that resident input and ran too quickly with it, setting out to clear branches from the power lines in the most cost-effective way.
“In the end, it’s all about money,” he said. “Trees are the power company’s arch nemesis.”
A representative from Asplundh’s Eastern Virginia office said the company gets its directions on which trees to cut and how to cut them directly from Dominion.
Penn said Dominion has an obligation to provide “safe and reliable service” to its customers, per the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s requirements, and that the power company approaches all trimmings with “the same measured approach.” He also noted that Dominion has an arborist on staff who worked with Asplundh on the Waterford tree trims.
“It’s a tightrope we have to constantly navigate, trying to walk the delicate balance between providing safe and reliable electricity to our customers while exhibiting respect for the intrinsic and aesthetic value that trees bring to our lives,” he said. “We love our trees and we value the beauty that they bring to our communities.”
Supervisor Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin) said Dominion informed him early Friday morning that it planned to meet with residents soon to see what it can do to “minimize the intrusion of the tree trimming.”
Higgins acknowledged that many of Waterford’s recent power outages weren’t caused by trees hitting power lines in the village, but that they could be in the future. “[Dominion was] trying to get ahead of the game a little bit I think,” he said.
He mentioned that when the power company trimmed trees along Old Wheatland Road about a year ago it “looked pretty brutal” at first, but eventually all grew back. He’s hopeful that will be the case in Waterford.
Denicore hopes that Dominion and Asplundh will communicate better with residents in the future and consider trimming the trees with one year of growth in mind, rather than three or more years. “When you come into a historic village, I think they need to have a different approach, they need to communicate more and have a plan,” he said.