First the estimate was 200.
In its final survey, Dominion Energy marked white dots onto 980 Palmetto trees on Edisto Beach, indicating they were days or weeks away from being felled because the trees had grown too close to power lines.
Palmetto trees are what some residents consider part of the town’s “culture” and “image.” After all, it graces the state flag, symbolizing Col. William Moultrie’s defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the attack of the British fleet on June 28, 1776.
Losing nearly 1,000 of the state’s native species rattled the 4.5-mile town so much that late last month Mayor Crawford Moore sent a memo attempting to quell residents, calling the plan sad, drastic and bureaucratic.
“This issue is one we are all unhappy with, and we have moved as quickly and aggressively as possible to head this off,” Moore wrote in his April 26 memo. “We have and are doing everything we can to slow the roll on this but, as I have stated, our authority is very limited.”
In early May, a Dominion representative confirmed 980 Palmettos would be cut down flush with the ground. The company will pay for tree removal, but it’s leaving the stumps.
“They’re doing about 25 a day,” Moore told The State Media Co., estimating the job would be complete by mid-June.
Edisto Beach isn’t the first South Carolina community to lose hundreds of Palmettos. In 2021, the energy company contracted to cut down 550 Palmetto trees at Folly Beach. Nearly 250 were removed on Sullivan’s Island in 2020.
Historically, Dominion trims back trees from power lines every five years. But because Palmettos grow back so fast, some residents call in landscapers to do some trimming before Dominion returns.
If the tree’s bloom area is within 10 feet of the power line, the trimmer needs to be certified under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. But some of the landscapers called haven’t been certified, and some have been killed while trimming the trees, Moore said. Dominion has been held responsible.
Trees taller than 15 feet cannot be in the 10-foot right of way or near overhead lines, said Paul Fischer, a Dominion spokesperson.
Fischer said the company’s decision to remove the encroaching Palmettos on Edisto Beach is about safety — both of its crews and the public. He pointed to trees as the No. 1 reason for power outages, and recent storm surges have proven the problem is real. Moore recalled a Palmetto tree that caught fire from a power line on Louise Street on Edisto Beach just weeks ago.
Four big storms in five years on Edisto Beach have brought trees and branches down and onto power lines, Moore said. It’s a choice between keeping the signature Palmettos — and risking fires or customers losing power — or removing the problematic trees and planting appropriate replacements.
Some residents criticized Dominion’s plan and urged that power lines be buried instead. Moore responded that burying lines was too costly, would “tear up half the town,” and extend repair time after storms.
The cost of installing 500 feet of underground line can range between $5,000 and $12,500, whereas the cost of overhead lines ranges from $4,000 to $7,500 for the same length.
The tree regulations Dominion uses are established by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., which develops standards for maintaining clearance between trees and power lines. It establishes a right of way directly under the wires that extends 10 feet on each side.
Most of the billions in costs related to power outages and disturbances can be directly connected to overgrown vegetation in the right of way, according to the Electric Power Research Institute. And under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, utilities can be fined up $1 million each day for outages.
Moore said the issues residents have with tree removal is between them and Dominion through the rights of way property owners sign when they obtain utility service. Currently, the town is working with Dominion on a replacement program, which would plant the appropriate trees out of the rights of way.
The details are still in the works, including who would pay for new trees, Moore said. However, he added that he doesn’t see the town adding back the near-1,000 trees it will lose.
Still, residents will need to manage removing the leftover stumps. Customers with questions regarding trees on or near their property can contact Dominion at 800-251-7234, or Clay Chaplin at 843-259-6732.
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