Proposed legislation in Montgomery County would spare trees along roads and sidewalks from being cut down during utility work.
The bill, scheduled to be introduced Tuesday, would require anyone who is working on sidewalks, roads, curbs and the like to acquire a permit before he or she is allowed to perform any work on trees that are on county land and rights of way.
That would include entirely removing a tree, trimming a tree or applying pesticides to a tree. Some exceptions would include trees that have been uprooted because of weather or when dealing with broken telephone, cable or electric wires.
County Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, said the effort has been in the works for a while. County residents have been lambasting Pepco for chopping down trees and cutting back limbs too much as the utility -- rated the "most hated company" in the United States two years ago -- works to trim greenery to better protect power lines.
Berliner said creating a better understanding of what was allowed -- and not allowed -- to be done to the county's trees and who was allowed to handle them gives county officials more authority over the trees.
"Our authority has not been clearly set forth," he said. "This will fundamentally change the nature of the game, if you will."
Earlier this year, County Council members proposed similar legislation that attempted to regulate the way utility companies handle county trees, including tree-trimming practices by Pepco.
County Attorney Marc Hansen wrote an opinion in June saying the county can't regulate utility companies; however, the county can legislate general requirements for trimming and treatment of trees.
Caroline Taylor, executive director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, said the new bill was critical as country trees have "been under assault."
"There have been legitimate reasons why trees need to be maintained," she said. "There has also been legitimate questions as to the nature of that pruning."
She said the bill allows the county to take a more proactive approach to saving more trees. However, she added the legislation might not be effective without education and enforcement.
"The bottom line is that if this is properly engaged, it could be a very helpful piece of legislation," she said. "You can't just slap these requirements on people and not have them understand why."