Tree trimming

Update on Tree Trimming

June 13, 2007

Many of you recall that in 2006, neighborhood residents sprang into action when Austin Energy gave notice of their plan to clear cut as many as 200 trees on one block due to potential interference with power lines. These trees were located in a buffer zone which separated back property lines from an adjacent commercial area between Buell and Steck, from Stillwood to Burnet.

The trees were cut down, but before the trees were cleared several residents, led by Kevin Wier, appealed to City Council members, the Mayor, Austin Energy and the City Forester for help with the issue. The impact of losing this large number of trees was significant on this section of our neighborhood. They received help in this effort from residents of other neighborhood associations who were fighting the same battle, including John Paul Moore of Hyde Park N.A., and Carolyn Palaima of Hancock N.A. Thanks to the group’s persistent efforts, a visit was paid by City Manager, Toby Futrell, and staff including the head of Austin Energy, Juan Garza, and staff of city council members, who walked the area to view the clear-cut devastation firsthand. As a result of the efforts by all, Austin Energy changed tree clearing policies to better preserve trees for the myriad benefits they provide. These benefits include providing shade which helps reduce energy bills in the summer, cleaning the air, and providing for a more peaceful, quieter, beautiful neighborhood.

Council Members Lee Leffingwell, Brewster McCracken, Betty Dunkerly, and Sheryl Cole supported the neighborhoods’ efforts in pushing for change to Austin Energy’s policies. Council Member Lee Leffingwell and his staff member, Nancy Williams, provided strong support for our neighborhood throughout this year-long process. They demonstrated much interest in helping us and took action to do so. Also, Council Member Brewster McCracken, was instrumental in helping the residents receive at least a gesture of restoration from Austin Energy in the form of replacement trees.

Recently, Austin Energy came through and delivered approximately 70 replacement tree saplings. Residents were allowed to choose from a variety of pre-approved trees. Austin Energy dug holes for the new trees to be planted. Kevin Wier researched and distributed information to his neighbors regarding planting and nurturing these new trees through the period of transplant.

The new replacement trees vary in height up to 3 feet. Although these are smaller than what residents were promised by Austin Energy, the trees have now been planted and below are the before and after pictures. The North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association Board would like to thank everyone who contributed to the resolution of this issue by working together and working with the City. In particular, Mary Jane and Kevin Wier, John Paul Moore and Carolyn Palaima were instrumental in leading the issue to this final resolve. Through joining efforts with Hyde Park NA and Hancock NA to address city leadership, Austin Energy agreed to change its ways.

Austin Energy is testing new approaches to preserving electrical service to the city while preserving Austin’s infrastructure asset of its urban forest. The city is exploring “tunneling” of electrical lines, and higher poles for above ground lines. Austin Energy discovered that using higher poles that take the electrical lines above the maximum height of trees was actually less expensive than using standard height poles and paying tree trimming/cutting crews annually. (City of Austin recently approved spending $27 million over 2 years to trim and cut down trees in Austin.) And Austin Energy agreed to change its trimming policy so that they won’t cut trees as severely. Clearance has been reduced by half, to 4-8 feet. Austin Energy and its contractors will report quarterly to both the city Environmental Board and the Urban Forestry Board. Future trimming will be incorporated as an integral part of the neighborhood planning process. Also, residents can elect to pay for the maintenance of their trees so Austin Energy doesn’t touch them.

Of note, trees over 8 inches in diameter must be shown on plats. Trees measuring over 19 inches in diameter are protected by the City and must be individually permitted before removal. You can check out the City’s policies at:

You have the right to stand up for your trees rights and protect your trees. This is a wonderful thing to do as our neighborhood’s urban forest adds to the charm and improves our neighborhood and quality of life.