Ken Carlson

County Pulse: PG&E will chop about 45 city trees to protect gas pipelines in Modesto

Some property owners in Modesto can expect a call or visit soon from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. about possibly removing trees that are uncomfortably close to natural gas pipelines.

The utility’s Community Pipeline Safety Initiative is coming to Modesto. It removes trees that could cause root damage to gas pipelines or block access to emergency responders during a natural disaster.

PG&E wants a closer look at 100 privately owned trees along pipeline routes in Modesto, spokesman Jeff Smith said. Letters were sent this week to 32 affected property owners.

Representatives will schedule a visit and talk with owners about which trees need to be removed. PG&E offers to pay for the trees destroyed or put a tree elsewhere on the property if that is what the owner wants.

PG&E is spending about $3 billion on improving the safety of its gas pipelines in California following the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion five years ago.

The utility notified the city of Modesto in December about trees on public property that posed a problem. Over several months, PG&E staff members talked things over with city staff, including Modesto’s forestry supervisor and arborist.

Jocelyn Reed, solid waste manager for Modesto, said she believed a list of 260 potential tree removals was whittled down to 45 or so. City staff members said “no way” to a proposal to cut some Modesto ash trees in the La Loma area and saved other trees of value, Reed said.

On closer inspection, some of the 250-plus trees did not need to be removed, Smith said.

Reed said most of the trees tagged for removal are magnolias or ginkgoes. The safety program will make a small dent in the city’s forest of more than 80,000 trees.

PG&E will compensate the city for the loss. Modesto will receive $35,000 worth of materials for completing its new tree nursery on Jennings Road, plus a $10,000 contribution for nursery operations.

The trees to be cut on public property are on Bangs Avenue, just west of Carver Road in north Modesto; on Claus Road, north and south sides of East Orangeburg Avenue; south of Yosemite Boulevard in south Modesto; and near Highway 99 in west Modesto.

Two months ago, PG&E created a stir when a contractor removed trees in the right-of-way on Santa Fe Street in east Riverbank. Some residents complained of losing shade trees and landscaping features of their homes.

About 10 trees were chopped down on Santa Fe between Claus and Snediger roads. One homeowner said PG&E offered to pay $750 for five olive trees that were felled in front of his home.

Riverbank officials took part in discussions to save a landmark oak tree at the corner of Santa Fe and Central Avenue. The safety initiative in Modesto is bound to arouse some emotions among those affected, but the ultimate goal is safer transmission of natural gas.

To learn more about what PG&E is doing to safeguard its pipelines, go to www.pge.com/en/safety/gassafety/pipeline/index.page.

Ken Carlson: 209-578-2321

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