Torches waiting to be lit

Lauren Easthom isn’t the only one who has to gaze upon dead trees under Duke Energy power lines. Every time I walk along Piney Mountain Road, I stroll by a copse of trees that Duke has topped, treated and left to die, all in the name of “managing non-compatible vegetation.” (The photos at right are of trees under a power line that runs along Piney Mountain Road, near Booker Creek.)

In 2008, Duke Energy agreed to forgo using herbicides under power transmission lines. But at the May 30 Town Council meeting, a Duke Energy representative announced that the corporation planned to resuming using the toxic sprays to kill shoots that come up from the stumps of trees that Duke has chopped down to keep away from power lines. He included photos of areas that had been sprayed, comparing them with areas that had not been treated, to show that in the past four years, little trees have re-emerged in places Duke workers had cleared but not sprayed.

But Easthom countered with photos of her own, showing areas near her home where Duke had sprayed trees 20 to 30 feet tall and left them there to die, becoming potential torches that the Chapel Hill fire chief agreed were a hazard. Easthom told of a fire near her home that started when someone tossed a lit cigarette butt that ignited a dead tree, and the fire had spread along the line of dead trees.

Town Council can’t do anything to prevent Duke from spraying herbicides. The Duke rep said that people who don’t want an area sprayed that is contiguous to their private property could call Duke to make that request. But Easthom said when her neighbors have done that, no one at Duke knows anything about that or even whom to direct the call to.

Jim Ward suggested painting the stumps rather than spraying a chemical. The Duke rep had never heard of that option. Matt Czajkowski sounded almost lawyerly as he pinned the rep to admit that saving money was the only reason Duke did not haul away trees it had cut down. Given that Duke’s top executives receive multimillion-dollar compensation packages annually, Duke should be able to afford to hire a few extra workers to paint rather than spray toxins. Czajkowski pointed out that if Chapel Hill’s fire chief considered the dead trees to be fire hazards, the town was obligated to remove them, costing taxpayers money.

Duke is supposed to notify Public Works before spraying, and the town is supposed to notify nearby homeowners, but the Duke rep and Public Works director Lance Norris hedged. Lee Storrow pointed out that sending out a notice should be easy as the town does it frequently for other information items.

Nearly every council member had a question for the Duke rep, who had few answers. He promised to return to council later this month to respond. Czajkowski suggested Duke bring the person who can make decisions.
– Nancy Oates

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  1. PhSledge

     /  June 6, 2012

    We’ve battled Duke on this issue for years. At one point they issued “No spraying” signs for those of us on an easement that was doused with herbicides periodically. (no trees, just undergrowth and low bushes–but spray they did) We could never find one person at Duke to talk to about this, but rather would have to wait for their work crews to appear and stop them from destroying our fruit trees and blueberry bushes. They assured us they sprayed annually but we had lived at that address for seven years when they first showed up…wanting to keep those pesticides from our own organic garden that borders the property was a puzzlement to Duke–a concept that literally had them scratching their heads.

  2. Anita Badrock

     /  June 6, 2012

    Thank you Town Council for spending time on this issue. This is the kind of work we need from local government. I’ve lived on a power easement for years, fortunately not one with lots of vegetation. Even so, when they do come through and trim and such, the debris they leave behind is significant. Aren’t Developers in this town required to properly dispose of vegetation they cut or dig up? If so, why does Duke Energy get a pass?

  3. Mark Marcoplos

     /  June 7, 2012

    Maybe the Chamber of Commerce should step in here. After all, Duke Energy is a member.

  4. Fred Black

     /  June 7, 2012

    “Step in” and do what Mark?

  5. Kimberly Willardson

     /  June 7, 2012

    Thank you Town Council for your attention to this issue. There’s a major disconnect between Duke Energy’s power line maintenance policies and what questions/complaints Duke Energy will address concerning their power line maintenance policies. My husband and I are still waiting for a response to a complaint we filed with Duke Energy more than a year and a half ago about their power line “maintenance” on our property. It’s almost beyond belief that a public utility company has so much control over the health, appearance, and value of our natural environment without being held accountable for the consequences of that control.

  6. Mark Marcoplos

     /  June 7, 2012

    Request that they act responsibly toward the community as long as they want to influence the local economy to benefit them.

  7. Fred Black

     /  June 7, 2012

    Oh how easy it would be to solve our issues if everyone agreed on what those words mean!

  8. Ed Harrison

     /  June 8, 2012

    Nancy, note that I suggested that, with all the gadgets in the world, Duke Energy could certainly come up with something that didn’t involve spraying or painting. My suggestion was a form of “drip applicator,” which is used for many other substances. I help manage a NC Botanical Garden natural area in company with one of Jim Ward’s colleague Associate Directors, Dr. Johnny Randall Consequently I’ve gotten updated into the 21st century on responsible and necessary use of herbicides. The Bot Garden uses them a lot in the right places, and I use them around my own yard for a similar reason to that of Duke Energy, to remove trees that are interfering with other plant growth. (Never anything that requires anymore than a small handsaw). Anyway, the rigidity and lack of imagination of the Duke Energy staff was striking. Our staff conveyed later in the week to me that the power company folks were stunned at the encounter with our Council. It looks to me from this column that we were reflecting our community’s views. I definitely prefer electricity to not having it, but there is clearly more than one way to kill a tree.

  9. Road Warrior

     /  June 9, 2012


    I feel for you and Council. It is really hard when you discover first hand just how single-minded people can be or just plain unimaginative.

    Power companies are State-Granted Monopolies designed to make money for shareholders on the backs of the Public. They don’t have to listen, because what are you really going to do? You cannot legally do much of anything. The type of people who are part of this type of organization usually aren’t what one would consider free-thinkers.

    It’s been Quixotic to challenge them. I would say it is Tilting at Windmills, but that would assume the people running Duke Power would put them up in the first place.

  10. Mark Marcoplos

     /  June 9, 2012

    Road Warrior – a masterful post.

  11. John Kramer

     /  June 10, 2012

    Oh well, everyone posting on this site is no doubt (ok mostly – except for you extreme finance challenged eco types) powering their internet connection via Duke Energy and complaining about uhhhh oh yeah, Duke Energy.

    Yep, those evil people who poison your trees and shrubs. And keep the 115,000 volt power lines safe from mother nature when the wind howls etc etc.

    So for all you wannabe haters out there- here is my advice- shut off your electricity in protest.

    Otherwise, until you have a decent understanding of ALL of that which is needed (including cutting down your precious trees and keeping more from growing) I would suggest that you refrain from criticizing the company that provides you with some of the most cost effective energy in the US,

    Certainly, folks, cutting down trees is part of why they are so good at keeping the lights on!

  12. Joe Capowski

     /  June 10, 2012

    Dealing with Duke on this issue is like going to the doctor’s, as follows:

    Joe: Doc, my elbow hurts.
    Doc: We can amputate your arm. Would you like us to do that?
    Joe: Amputate my arm? Of course not.
    Doc: Then don’t complain; we offered you the treatment and you refused.

  13. John Kramer

     /  June 10, 2012

    How clever Mr Capowski, do you charge the batteries on your truck with Duke Power? If so, maybe you should get some solar collectors instead.

    It is so easy for those with no real knowledge to criticize,

  14. Road Warrior

     /  June 11, 2012


    You aren’t paying attention. We would prefer they cut them down to poisoning them. Perhaps, you should try reading?

    Just a suggestion.

    Also, if you lived through the Ice Storm, they aren’t that good. You’re an ideologue.

    They should take their cash and bury the power lines. That’s what a good power company does.