Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) | Gas Pipeline Safety and Tree Cuting Project | One Family's Journey

Mar 10 2017


"Man, like a tree in the cleft of a rock, gradually shapes his roots to his surroundings,
and when the roots have grown to a certain size, can't be displaced without cutting at his life.
" Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

What one family had to do to [try and] save just one tree.

Update (5/3/2015)

We received the survey results showing:

The center of the tree is outside of the 1.5 acre property line by 9.6",
placing its 12"+ diameter on the property line,
as well as within the "Prescriptive Easement" area by 5 Feet.

Greg Wright, a PG&E Senior Outreach Specialist, sent us the documentation along with a very professional letter, for which we are grateful.

Update (5/1/2015)

PG&E (@PGE) conducted a land survey and reexamined the pipeline depth. According to their survey, which we were promised to receive and examine [Have not received yet], the tree belongs to the county/city. However, as we mentioned to them, legally the tree belongs to us following these three approaches (Read and Learn More: California Adverse Possession):

Land Survey - They conducted one and we are awaiting to see the evidence; or

Adverse Possession - You lay claim to a piece of land and its usage, given that certain conditions are met; or

Prescriptive Easement - Should there be a dispute with "Adverse Possession" namely issues with what constitutes property taxes for a small strip of county owned land, this approach kicks in. In short, if you take control of a piece of land and use it for legitimate purpose (e.g., easement to your land, wind and sound barriers, etc.) for over five years, you maintain it, you do it openly and continuously, then the usage of that land is legally yours, in this case the trees which are for sound, dust, and view barriers. And most importantly, legally it automatically falls into your hand, that is to say, the county has to take it away from you by taking you to court. In short, the tree is legally ours.

PG&E was notified of this many times during the process and yet still argues that the tree does not belong to us. The removal of the tree is not necessary. The pipeline is well over seven feet under the tree roots, with the roots [at 3 feet] posing no risk to the pipeline. Also given it's depth, access to the pipe should it ever fail on that 12 inch tree diameter (out of 6500 miles of gas lines), can be made via a dozen different ways at an angle to the tree.

The county/city receives $1500 for each tree taken. Along our street alone, they've removed well over 30 trees (~$60,000+). As compensation they offer the home owner one or two $30 dollar trees and demand you sign a document so that you do not sue them for having taken your tree should you decide to pursue the matter in court. 

We think it's important to have people effected by this process know about the laws that may support any claims to their lost trees and to have PG&E account for the process by which they take these trees. We for one will continue to try and save our tree and to protect it from the chopping block. Hopefully, we shall get some support from our representatives (Jared Huffman -  @RepHuffman, or maybe even PG&E itself, from Tim Fitzpatrick the voice of the company / communications director @PGE_Tim)

... To Be continued

Back story …

PG&E has started this work without any outside environmental impact assessments and/or environmental impact reports made available for public comment, that would be required of any other entity undertaking such a project. PG&E's internal analysis, identifying the trees and shrubs to be eliminated, has significant errors including mis-identifying targeted trees, and failing to note rare species to be destroyed, such as Shreve Oak and the unique low-elevation Ponderosa Pines of Santa Cruz County’s protected Sand Hills. Research indicates that the only substantiated reason for this mass destruction is likely merely for PG&E’s “convenience”, to facilitate PG&E using questionable and possibly illegal methods of repairing pipeline leaks. PG&E claims that digging through living tree roots slows down access to leaking pipelines, which affects PG&E’s preferred (and probably much more dangerous) method of making repairs while gas is still leaking under pressure (a process, that in most instances is illegal since Federal regulations [49 CFR 192.615] requires, if there is danger to life or property, that gas be shut off; a practice which if adhered to would permit plenty of time to access pipes for repairs making tree-removal unnecessary.) It would be catastrophic for the State to continue to permit this massive destruction of miles of trees, lining city streets and going through rural and remote areas, to proceed based solely on PG&E’s flawed internal data and analysis. Even worse, this is occurring at a time when California is losing untold number of trees due to the drought. This is not a time when we can afford to be reckless in cutting trees that add to property values, provide oxygen and shade, remove pollutants and provide important habitat. 

While we appreciate that PG&E needs the ability to maintain, inspect and operate its system safely, the measures PG&E takes must also abide by the State’s existing environmental laws and be transparent to the public. Moreover, its measures must take into account ALL aspects of public safety to prevent unintended consequences from erosion to soil destabilization, undermining pipelines and exacerbating leaks and breaks, that will occur from such massive tree destruction.

There are valid reasons to question the rationale that PG&E has used in concluding the trees are even a significant threat at all to the gas transmission lines. Research indicates that living tree roots perform a beneficial role along gas transmission lines, stabilizing and protecting the pipeline, especially in erosive soils and along earthquake faults and surrounding areas.

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