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Montgomery County puts aside tree trimming complaints against Pepco

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County officials are backing away from a proposal that was supposed to protect county trees from the chain saws of Pepco linemen after last week's devastating storm ripped down trees and power lines and left hundreds of thousands of residents in the dark for days.

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner introduced the tree-protection measure in April, following widespread complaints from residents about the power company's aggressive trimming of trees around its power lines.

But with much of the county still struggling without power days after a summer storm ripped through the eastern part of the county, government officials said now is not the time to debate tree-trimming limits with the utility.

"This area does have a have a beautiful and lush tree canopy," said Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large. "Very large trees also bring hazards with them. ... I'm seeing houses that have been flattened. I'm seeing people trapped in their cars."

Pepco officials -- and now county officials -- say placing new restrictions on the power company at the very moment it is trying to restore service to hundreds of thousands of customers and improve its system to prevent a repeat occurrence may do more harm than good.

"You should err on the side of trying to make sure that you do as much as you can conceivably do to increase chances [that people won't lose power again]," County Executive Ike Leggett said.

Jerry Pasternak, Pepco's vice president for Maryland affairs, said the tree-protection bill "adds substantial time and costs" and undermines efforts to improve service.

The county council was scheduled to take up Berliner's bill next week but postponed consideration.

Berliner said damage done by the storm shouldn't influence whether the county ultimately tightens its restrictions on tree trimming by the power company.

"Trees in storms are different from tree trimming," he said.

Still, Berliner said he is making changes to the bill on the advice of County Attorney Marc Hansen. Though the original draft of the bill regulated Pepco specifically, Hansen advised the bill be changed to regulate everyone who trims trees.

"There isn't a debate as to whether or not tree trimming is a good thing," Berliner said. "We want proper tree trimming, the emphasis on proper."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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