By Drew Penner
Pacific Gas and Electric Company is moving into the next phase of wildfire clean-up efforts—clearing out thick tree trunks it chopped down previously.
According to Santa Cruz County’s Office of Response, Recovery & Resilience, the electricity provider is taking action in the wake of a legal dispute.
“Under the terms of a settlement reached with the County, PG&E agreed to implement a wood waste removal program and provide additional measures meant to protect the community from the threat and impact of wildfires,” a county spokesperson said in a release. “The County filed suit with the Public Utilities Commission following complaints from impacted residents that PG&E’s vegetation management and hazardous tree removal practices following the CZU Fire were insufficient.”
In a Dec. 1 announcement, the power company said it had already started reaching out to landowners for permission to get rid of the thick tree chunks.
“With landowner permission, PG&E will begin the wood removal program in the coming weeks, weather and safety permitting,” a PG&E spokesperson said in a release. “This includes planning and implementation steps to ensure the safety and success of the program, such as environmental review, site visits, landowner coordination and resource management.”
Following the CZU Lightning Complex fires, PG&E and its tree-removal contractors raced to restore power, including inspecting and cutting down hazardous trees that put workers or electric equipment in danger.
At the time, according to PG&E, crews were able to chip wood that was less than four inches in diameter, often spreading the chips on-site.
“Because wood is considered property that legally belongs to the landowner, any wood larger than four inches in diameter was left on-site,” the company’s release states.
But PG&E got a lot of flak for leaving many felled trees to rot.
The County says PG&E’s decision not to remove large wood debris in the first place put extra burdens on homeowners.
“After hearing from our constituents, it became clear that we needed to take strong action to remedy PG&E’s neglectful actions during the recovery process,” 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson said. “We look forward to PG&E working more collaboratively with the County and our residents in the future to assure that their needs are met following major disaster events and outages.”
PG&E says its tree-removal contractors will carry identification with them so residents know what they’re up to.
“In response to customer and community feedback, PG&E is preparing to remove wood debris and trees that it cut down,” a spokesperson said. “For the safety of PG&E’s customers, communities and crews, wood management that may require additional equipment or coordination will be addressed once PG&E is able to determine a path forward.”
Third District Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said he’s pleased with the settlement that he says will help reduce the risk of future wildfires.
“Our role as elected officials is to look out for the interests of residents when they need us most,” he said.
Under terms of the settlement, PG&E will notify customers regarding the opt-in wood waste removal program, which expires Jan. 31.