Blame it on the feds.
That's why officials with TECO say they're employing arborists this week to chop down oak trees that have graced the eastern side of Al Lopez Park alongside Himes Avenue in Tampa for years. Specifically, they say they are worried about incurring major fines coming from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which was created by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2007. That agency has the authority to charge electric utilities like TECO serious money if they're not compliant with such issues as tree trimming.
"If a utility is found to have an outage that affects other utilities that was caused by trees or vegetation ... we can face fines of up to a million dollars a day," says Cherie Jacobs, spokesperson with TECO.
Congress passed a bill requiring tree trimming in 2006, but it was not enforced until 2007 to give utilities time to comply. USA Today reports
that it wasn't until the summer of 2008 that NERC began fining utilities that have not moved aggressively enough to comply.
Tampa resident Cheryl Borman was walking her dog along Himes Avenue last week when she first noticed the oaks being removed. The only signs she saw were ones that read, "Please pardon our work in this area as we upgrade electric system reliability. Trees removed as part of this effort will be replaced by varieties better suited to growing near power lines.”
But what types of trees will those be? TECO officials say they're working on the replacement plan with City of Tampa officials, but acknowledge that they won't
be grand oaks (Tampa officials have not responded to CL's calls for more information).
"People use that park every single day and I think it’s a shame," says Borman, who after seeing the downed trees began talking to local residents who said they had no idea that it was happening.
TECO's Cherie Jacobs says the electric company has been notifying residents of its plans. And she says that the company feels badly that it has to do what it has to do.
"We know that trees are an important part of the community," she says. "We love trees, too. We have a staff of arborists who work every day to strike that balance between aesthetics of tress, and safety and reliability for our customer. Tampa Electric hates having to remove trees. These new standards are really driving this action."