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Wrightsville Beach
Saturday, March 2, 2024

Tree pruning to proceed despite protest

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Duke Energy officials plan to return to Live Oak Drive to finish trimming tree limbs entangled around power lines, with or without compliance from residents and Wrightsville Beach officials.

“Legal action is an option,” said Duke spokesperson Paige Layne. “It’s certainly not our preferred approach, but it is an option we might have to consider if that’s what it takes to get the work completed.”

Two weeks after a few dozen residents crowded around two remaining untrimmed live oaks to prevent crews from finishing maintenance work on trees in the street’s median, Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens and Mayor Bill Blair met with town attorney John Wessell and a Duke representative to discuss options for moving forward.

Neither Duke nor town officials prefer to take the route of force, Blair said.

“I don’t think that’s the preferable way, but they’re prepared to do that,” Blair said. “Those trees will get cut, one way or the other, as a process of what they have typically done, or they will force the issue if it’s necessary.”

Town officials relayed the outcome of the discussion to a few residents of the street after the March 31 meeting. Live Oak Drive resident and former Wrightsville Beach Mayor David Cignotti, selected as a representative of the neighborhood during ongoing negotiations, said residents wish they could have more actively participated in the conversation to convey their desired outcome.

“All that we are asking is for Duke to trim the remaining trees in the same manner that they did at the southern end of the median, where they did a really good job,” Cignotti said.

Contact between tree limbs and power lines is one of the leading causes of power outages, Layne said, and also poses a problem for line workers trying to restore and repair service following storms and other events. Layne acknowledged that some cuts to limbs are “not aesthetically pleasing,” but said they were designed to protect the tree’s health while training the limbs to grow away from the lines.

“We do V cuts. We do side cuts. We do L cuts. But those are the appropriate cuts that have been developed for the utility industry to ensure communities can have trees while also benefitting from the electricity they need to maintain their daily lives,” Layne said.

Duke and town officials discussed other solutions during the meeting, including an offer from residents to hire an arborist and contractor to finish the work to the utility’s specifications, but Owens said that offer is not feasible.

“That’s just not a viable solution. It’s dangerous work. It’s something that’s going to have to be done to their guidelines, because they’re committed to doing this,” Owens said.

A solution that satisfies everyone involved is possible, Cignotti said.

“I’m an optimist, and I hope we can reach an outcome that works for Duke and the neighborhood,” Cignotti said.

Residents held a meeting Tuesday night to discuss Duke’s posture and their options.

Duke has not scheduled a day to complete the work yet, but Layne said town officials and residents will know before crews arrive.

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