SEPTEMBER 7, 2015logos  


Community Updates 


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In this issue

The War of the Trees 

Montgomery County leads the charge against Pepco
in State Hearing 

Pepco destruction in a homeowner's back yard
A group of county residents, Conservation Montgomery and a County Councilmember testified before the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) this past week to protest Pepco's overzealous pruning and tree removal practices and to ask for amendments to the state regulations the utility must follow. PSC commissioners, shocked over Pepco's aggressive behavior toward homeowners, promised to take action.
"I'm looking at a picture that is supposed to show trees interfering with wires -- and I can see from these pictures that this was not the case," said Commissioner Harold Williams in a Sept. 1st hearing. "I'm appalled."
Residents from the Inverness Forrest and Potomac Crest communities asked that RM 43, the regulations Pepco must comply with in their vegetation management practices, be amended to address overly-aggressive tree pruning and removal.  They also asked that guidance be clarified on homeowner rights when Pepco works in their neighborhood and requested that Pepco pay for the cost of grinding stumps when they remove trees.  Also among problems addressed was the lack of jurisdiction that the county government has over Pepco. The PSC regulates public utilities and approves or denies their requests for rate increases.
"Pepco has been abusing the power the PSC has entrusted to them," said Jake Liang, who testified alongside his wife, attorney Gail Prentiss, about Pepco removing 17 trees that had been removed from their property in spite of their protests and after assessments from independent arborists verified that removal was unnecessary. "This kind of bullying is unacceptable."
Liang and Prentiss
Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-District 1) testified  on Wednesday. He noted that Pepco has been using a "Paul Bunyon" approach when Johnny Appleseed is more appropriate.  Berliner said his office is one of the Council offices that have fielded many complaints in recent years from county residents who are frustrated that the county government has no jurisdiction over Pepco.  
Before a citizen panel testified, PSC attorneys and staff provided an update with a report on reliability.  They noted that Pepco, still ranked as the lowest on the scale for service reliability,   has complained that it cannot meet PSC standards.
Conservation Montgomery (CM)Vice Chair Ginny Barnes testified on the  environmental impact of canopy loss to  air and water quality, the Chesapeake Bay clean-up and emphasized how Pepco's practices defeat county government efforts to protect and increase tree cover.  CM testimony also emphasized that  Pepco is not  required to remove stumps which makes it next to impossible to replant  where trees have been destroyed. 
"Our county government has also made a tremendous investment in sustaining tree canopy over the years, most recently in the form of adopting two new tree laws in 2013 to supplement the County Forest Conservation Law," Barnes noted. "The County Department of Environmental Protection is also preparing to launch a countywide tree-planting plan to try to replace mature trees that have been lost to development.  So you can see that tree canopy is a priority for our county."
Barnes concluded her testimony with a list of actions for the PSC to consider in amending RM 43. In addition to environmental impacts, panel members spoke of the economic impacts of canopy loss created by Pepco tree removal and pruning. 
"We've experienced a significant increase in electricity bills.  Our power bills are up by about 15% since Pepco removed trees from our property," said Gail Prentiss, a real estate attorney whose fenced yard was where hundreds of mature trees were cut down.  Prentiss said a retaining wall is needed now to deal with erosion and stormwater runoff on her property created by the tree removal. "We've experienced emotional and economic damage brought about by Pepco."
Homeowners provided accounts of Pepco accessing their property using a 1958 easement the utility had purchased under eminent domain. The easements had not appeared on title searches when they had purchased their property decades ago. Using the easement, instead of pruning trees, Pepco completely removed trees in their back yards along a power corridor in Potomac.  The utility had county police and had lawyers accompany them to a massive tree-removal operation in mid-June.  More than 150 trees were removed from the Potomac Crest community alone.
Fred Goodman said 25 homeowners from his community held a meeting with County Executive Leggett in May. Leggett then contacted Pepco to ask for them to meet with the community in early June.  The meeting was attended by 160 angry homeowners from all parts of the county.  Pepco officials said they would look into the situation. But two weeks later, Pepco showed up in force with the police and their lawyers on Goodman's property while he was away on a business trip. They threatened his wife and ordered her to get back in her house as they were cutting the Goodmans' trees.  
"This is the kind of bullying we've been going through,"  Goodman said. "They didn't trim trees," Goodman said.  "They took them out entirely." 
He said an independent arborist had assessed the trees and their proximity to power lines before Pepco's removal and determined that there was no need for complete removal.  PSC Chair Kevin Hughes asked Goodman about his cost of removing the stumps left in the wake of Pepco activity.  According to Goodman, estimates were between $300 and $700 per stump.
Ann Gallagher is a certified arborist who testified on the panel.  She said trees along power lines have been structurally disabled by Pepco's aggressive pruning.  Many of the trees taken down by Pepco could remain in place and are in good health, according to Gallagher.  She added that more than 25% of the crowns of trees are being removed despite Pepco's claims that they follow industry standards that recommend that a tree be removed if more than 25% of the crown must be pruned around power lines.
"The standards and Maryland regulations do not call for wholesale removal of trees along power lines," she said. "Wholesale removal is not a way to provide maximum benefits."
Commissioner Williams said the PSC will try to determine the best course of action. "My colleagues and I will be discussing this," he said.  "I'm sorry that you had to experience that type of behavior.  We will end up coming up with a solution. I publicly apologize to you."
Other commissioners asked whether residents had approached county or state officials for assistance.  Residents said the Council had tried to help but found they had no jurisdiction over Pepco.  State legislators Brian Feldman and Aruna Miller had drafted a bill that died in the legislative session last year. Prentiss said her community contacted the PSC and received a letter from the PSC saying their letter had been forwarded to Pepco. 
"You can see this has been a circular situation," Prentiss said.
Commissioner Lawrence Brenner, a Montgomery County resident, noted the way that Pepco has disfigured trees in the county with the familiar V-cut around power lines.   "I've seen the trimming along our streets.  Roadside trees are still standing but the outcome is undesirable. The process you've experienced is horrendous."  He added that the PSC normally does not get involved in property rights issues.
Creating a role for an independent arborist to intervene when there is a dispute over trees was among the requests from the county residents.  Commissioner Anne Hoskins said this is an important idea to consider.  She prefaced her remarks with saying the commission set standards which utilities are now trying to meet.
"Pepco tells us that you have given them the ability to act as they do," said Barnes, addressing the commission.  "They blame you."
Commissioner Hoskins said there is a "serious problem here" in terms of behavior and customer relations. She said that in terms of pruning, clarifying the maximum amount or least amount of pruning is necessary.
"I don't want you to think we don't have the authority to help you," Hoskins said.  "We do have the authority to help you."
Chairman Hughes concluded the hearing by committing to address the problems brought on by Pepco's over-pruning, cutting and dismissive attitude toward residents.  
"I don't want you to think the commission doesn't intend to address this. We do intend to address this."
                                                                                                 -- Caren Madsen 
Maryland Public Service Commission

What can you do? 

Write the Maryland Public Service Commission, thank them for considering residents' complaints about Pepco. Encourage them to rein in Pepco!

W. Kevin Hughes, Chair  
Maryland Public Service Commission
William Donald Schaefer Tower 
6 St. Paul Street,  16th Floor 
Baltimore, MD  21202    

Read some of the news coverage on this issue: 
Do you have a Pepco story to share?  E-mail us at


Sign up for Fall 2015 Home Tree 101 Classes!  

Give your trees some TLC.  We'll bring an arborist out to your neighborhood to show you and your neighbors how to care for mature trees on your property. Or learn how to plant new trees with the "right tree, right place" concept.   

Now taking requests for Fall 2015 classes!  

Dates that are still available: 

Sept. 26
Oct. 17
Oct. 31
Nov. 7
Nov. 21 
  This is a partnership project between Conservation Montgomery 
and the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection. 



Save these dates!


  • Safe Grow Montgomery/Conservation Montgomery Happy Hour: September 18th at 6 p.m.   Details here. 
  • Annual Big Tree Tour: October 10th at 9 a.m.  Email us at to make a reservation.  Reservations are required. 
  • Conservation Montgomery Annual Meeting:  November 13th at 6 p.m.  Register here.  We start with a wine and cheese networking reception. This year's topic:  A Growing Legacy, a film produced by the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, and the Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve.  Our annual meeting is a great way to meet and mingle with like-minded people. Meet board members, partners and county officials who attend each year.



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