Last January’s two hours-long power outage was caused by broken branches colliding with power lines during a massive wind storm, according to Lodi Electric Utility Director Jeff Berkheimer.
The outage affected more than 9,000 customers, about a third of the city, Berkheimer said, adding some 30 large pine trees along Lower Sacramento raised concern about public safety and potential power outages in the future.
“We’ve followed up after storm season and found that these trees are actually very brittle, they have broken and twisted limbs,” he told the Lodi City Council during a Tuesday morning shirtsleeve session.
“There’s a high sap content that does create potential for a fire hazard,” he added. “And from an electric utility perspective, our biggest concern is that these trees are large enough and close enough that when these branches break, they do have the ability to come down into our power lines and create some pretty significant outages.”
Berkheimer said 10 trees along the Lower Sacramento Road frontage road at Tejon Street are being eyed for removal and replacement, as well as 10 trees at Elm Street, and 10 more at Oxford Street. All the trees are located on the eastern side of Lower Sacramento Road.
The trees interfere with electric utility lines which serve local neighborhood substations, and Berkheimer said when those lines become de-energized, as much as 35% of the city could be out of power at once.
West Coast Arborist would work with Tree Lodi to remove the trees and plant a variety of other species, including the trident maple, smoke tree, English Hawthorn, leprechaun green ash and purple leaf plum, among others. Berkheimer said the new trees would be utility-friendly that could be easily replaced in the event city staff is required to ask residents for permission to enter properties and remove invasive species near power lines.
“It’s kind of a fun thing we think will give customers a little more incentive to work with us and allow us to remove some of the palm trees or redwood trees that are much more of a problem species,” he said. “They can actually go out and look at what some of the fully grown, mature alternatives look like, and then kind of pick out the replacement tree right then and there.”
Tree Lodi does not support the removal of fully-grown, mature trees, and Berkheimer agreed with that policy. However, he said the issue at hand was a matter of system reliability and public safety.
Mayor Alan Nakanishi suggested simply trimming the trees rather than completely removing them, as they provide aesthetics and ambiance, as well as protection from pollution and noise.
“Yesterday I went toward that area, and they are beautiful trees,” he said. “One of the complaints we’ve had from people living in that area is the noise. I thought to myself, ‘why don’t we just cut it, were in and out, yearly or every two years.’ That would seem like a feasible way. Those are beautiful trees. It took 50 years to grow those trees.”
Berkheimier suggested staff could speak with Tree Lodi about trimming the trees, but cautioned that there was concern from the nonprofit organization that topping-off the pines too much could present more of an eyesore along Lower Sacramento Road.
It could even result in death of the trees, he said.
While no vote was taken Tuesday morning, the rest of the council favored removing and replacing the trees.
“Mr. Mayor, I like your idea, except I have birch trees in my backyard and power lines go right through,” Vice mayor Mark Chandler said. “It’s a constant environmental threat. The city is inconsistent in coming in and clearing them, I’ve had to do it myself the last couple of times. I’d love to see those other varieties of trees as replacements. I think ongoing maintenance is more expensive.
Staff will give Nakanishi more information as to what the project involves. If he isn’t satisfied, staff will bring the item back to council for a formal vote at a regular meeting.