Who's supposed to remove the logs?

Staff WriterMay 23, 2009 

— Pam Bailey found a notice on her front door last fall that Duke Energy would be cutting down two large trees in her yard.

The trees had grown into Duke's right of way near the power lines, and Bailey was fine with having them cut.

Her beef is that the subcontractors Duke hired to cut down the trees stacked the large logs in her yard and didn't haul them away. She called Duke Energy and was told the town of Chapel Hill was responsible for picking up the logs. The town told her it didn't pick up logs, that Duke should.

So the logs sat in her yard for six months.

She called Triangle Troubleshooter for help.

First, we called Chapel Hill. Harv Howard, the solid waste-fleet maintenance superintendent, said the town doesn't even pick up logs from residents who cut down their own trees, let alone Duke Energy's debris. He was pretty hot under the collar that Duke keeps telling customers that Chapel Hill will pick up their yard waste.

"I've been superintendent for 12 years, and I've heard this story for a long time," he said, adding that he wishes he could find someone at Duke to talk to about spreading this false information.

We then called Duke Energy's spokesman, Andy Thompson.

Duke, which is based in Charlotte, contracts with tree-cutting companies to do all its tree trimming and removal, he said. Thompson admitted there had been a "miscommunication" between a Duke representative and Bailey about the town's responsibility.

But, Thompson said, it has always been Duke's policy that the customer is responsible for hauling away logs when the company cuts down an entire tree. The company will, however, remove small debris it trims.

"Our primary focus is providing reliable electricity for our customers," Thompson said. "Our policy is to remove a tree that has grown into our right of way, cut it up in manageable pieces and stack it neatly on a customer's property."

Duke sees the tree as belonging to the property owner, so it's the customer's responsibility to get rid of it -- even if Duke initiates the cutting, he said.

Who wants the wood?

We asked what happens when the company cuts down a tree in someone's yard who can't afford to remove the logs.

"I'm sure many people have contacts with people interested in the wood," Thompson said.

If the company paid its subcontractors to haul away every tree they cut down, Duke would have to pass that cost on to customers, Thompson explained. The increased cost would be substantial, he added. (Duke reported annual revenue of $13.2billion last year.)

Progress Energy, which covers Raleigh, hauls away all logs and debris it cuts down in residential areas, a spokesman said. Troubleshooter also called Tim Robbins, owner of Arbormax, a company that cuts down trees across the Triangle.

He said he typically sells the wood he cuts down to lumber yards, "which offsets the cost" of hauling the logs away.

At least they're gone

Bailey sent Troubleshooter photos of the logs, which we forwarded to the N.C. Utilities Commission, an organization that regulates power companies.

James McLawhorn, director of the electric division, said Duke Energy's policy on file with the commission says the company will remove all debris, including logs, if it is in a maintained or landscaped area, such as people's lawns. If a tree is trimmed or cut down in a rural or unlandscaped area, the company will leave it, McLawhorn said.

The pictures show the logs stacked in a wildflower bed, inches off Bailey's landscaped grass.

"I guess it's technically within their policy," McLawhorn said, "but in our opinion they are pushing the limit. It's right up next to the lawn. Our recommendation is that they ought to go remove it."

On Friday, someone from McLawhorn's office called Duke Energy and told them to remove the logs, McLawhorn said.

That same day, a man came to Bailey's door and said he'd been tipped off by a Duke Energy employee there was wood for the taking, Bailey said.

He was not a professional tree remover, but said he uses the wood for heat, Bailey said.

The logs were gone by Friday afternoon, she said.

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