At an emotionally-charged meeting of the Lower Macungie Board of Commissioners on Thursday, a room full of residents listened to a PPL Corp. spokesman explain the company's new policy: to remove any woody-stemmed vegetation that could potentially damage power lines.
Paul Wirth of PPL explained that the Halloween storms of the past two years caused widespread power outages when trees took down power lines. Additionally, they grow up into the lines and can cause arcing which also is dangerous.
"So we're cutting more trees down," Wirth said. "We understand that you don't like having trees removed, but as a company, we have a responsibility to tens of thousands of others."
PPL will enforce its legal right to clear intrusive vegetation from rights-of-way which means either 25, 35 or 50 feet on either side from the center of a utility pole and the connecting wires. In other words, the company will clear 50-, 70- or 100-foot swaths under its lines that run in the vicinity of East Texas, Lower Macungie and Millcreek roads and Willow and Sauerkraut lanes and into Alburtis.
The cost of the power outages—sometimes even measured in human life—is absorbed by all the utility's customers, Wirth explained.
Furthermore, where trees are removed from the company's rights of way, there are few, if any, outages, he said.
All of it made perfect sense, of course, but made no difference. Countless trees on 49 properties throughout Lower Macungie that beautifully provide privacy, shelter, shade have been adorned with what one homeowner called "the ribbon of death."
The people want their trees.
After his initial presentation, Wirth and two other PPL representatives took questions in the room adjacent to the commissioners' meeting room.
While some were loaded for bear, Princeton Drive resident Pier Monaco's voice cracked as he quietly told Wirth that the targeted Kwanzan Cherry tree in his yard is a memorial to his late wife, Carol, who died in 2007. Wasn't there something they could do?
Earl Burnside of PPL agreed to meet with Monaco to see what could be done.
After the meeting, Wirth said Monaco's memorial may be on the list of approved trees. If not, perhaps it can be moved, he said.
Another resident, Beth Ravier said she's lived on Wayside Drive for eight years. She has three sons and a dog.
Cutting down the trees in her yard exposes her family to a busy road sets free kids, the dog and balls that are now contained.
"It's Hello, Sauerkraut!" she said.
"This is going to look like a war zone. That totally sucks. It's totally unacceptable," she said to Wirth.
Ravier is also annoyed that she's the one who will have to absorb the cost of replacing the trees. That sentiment was echoed by several homeowners.
PPL provides a list of acceptable replacement foliage, but will not pay to purchase or plant them, Wirth said.