Let’s Stop the Tree Choppers!

Richard Mason
Let’s Stop the Tree Choppers
No, I’m not talking about the misguided folks who chop off their crepe myrtle trees; I’m after the big boys who ravage our street trees. These are the big time tree choppers. They’re the folks we pay (via our electric bill) to come into our towns and cities and mutilate our trees. Yes, I know Entergy will tell you, “We only cut the limbs that could break and fall on power lines during an ice storm.” Oh, my gosh, that sounds as if Entergy is out there working to be sure we don’t lose power. But, we keep losing power almost every time it even rains. What’s up? Are we domed to have power outages every time it clouds up? Yes, we are, if we don’t change the way we distribute power. Since we are the ones who end up paying for all the tree mutilation that Entergy lavishes on us, maybe it’s up to us to tell them to quit doing a never ending job of trimming, and try something that actually works, and by doing it, preserve our urban tree canopy. It’s called “underground utilities.”
Yes, we all know our state doesn’t lead the nation in something like requiring underground electrical service in new subdivisions, or do we have a plan to systemically require a certain amount of our power grid to be placed underground each year. I don’t know our ranking, but I’ll be willing to bet we come out near the bottom.
Entergy says it would be too expensive. Of course, they frequently forget or minimize the tremendous cost incurred each year by having to go back over roadway after roadway to cut what they cut only a few years ago. Yes, and they don’t give any value to our misery when we put up with those cold nights where we shiver because the power is out. Tree trimming always makes the next trimming job more expensive because the trimmed tree branches grow back more dense, and of course, as we see two lane roads around the state widened, just think of the dollars wasted in having to move the power lines.
If we look back over the past 50 years and consider the hundreds of power outages that resulted from trees or tree limbs falling on power lines, and then total up all the lost economic work time plus giving the huge inconvenience of miserable customers some value, we would see the value in putting utilities underground. If we had just put a portion of the money spent to trim trees into underground utilities, then today, we could see big areas of our state where tree trimming wasn’t needed, and over the years those areas would save us millions of dollars in tree trimming expense.
El Dorado, in the core of its Downtown, has underground utilities. The entire city can lose power and most of the time, unless there is an outlying power line outage that serves a station linking up Downtown, our Downtown has power. Yes, it did cost when we put in underground utilities, but considering the saving over the almost 40 years since they were placed underground, it is a certainty not only did we save hundreds of thousands of dollars in tree-trimming, but millions of dollars in retail and banking wasn’t lost. It has been a money saving solution that should be used across Arkansas.
But it’s more than saving money. Almost every Arkansas town has an entryway street where multiple retail stores and restaurants are located, and virtually all of these towns have overhead utilities lining the street. It’s usually the ugliest street in town. Underground utilities and street trees would turn an eyesore into a pleasant gateway into your community.
So when you see your legislator or power company official urge them to at the very least come up with a plan to eventually put all electrical lines underground. It’s happening in all the first world countries and in the most progressive states in our Nation there are mandates to put electrical lines underground. Instead of being content to bring up the rear again, we should look to the future and have a systemic plan to gradually add underground utilities. Must we always be last?