Council agrees to fund joint tree assessment process between PG&E and city

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Posted on October 13, 2021
Council agrees to fund joint tree assessment process between PG&E and city

Seeking to resolve ongoing disputes between the City of Lafayette and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. over the removal of more than 200 trees – and involving a separate 2017 lawsuit brought against the city by Save Lafayette Trees – city council approved the September 27 the expenditure of $ 50,000 to fund a tree appraisal process. As part of the process, the city and PG&E will each bring together a pipeline safety expert and a tree expert / arborist to form a group of four members whose goal will be to develop plans and criteria for removal or removal. preservation of some 200 trees.

The expert group, referred to as the “Trees Advisory Team”, will conduct a joint risk assessment, draw conclusions, submit recommendations to Lafayette and PG&E, submit these recommendations to city council and make the information available. public. If at the end of the study the city and PG&E resolve the problem, a new agreement will be reached and the dispute between the two parties will be dropped.

City Manager Niroop Srivatsa, when presenting a staff report at the meeting, said: “I would like to stress that our intention is to minimize the number of trees, if any, to be removed. This process also allows us to have a say in the criteria. like in the tree appraisal, something we haven’t had before. ”If either party disagrees with the advisory team’s findings, Srivatsa said the either party can “walk away” and neither the city nor PG&E is obligated to make a deal.

PG&E in the multi-year conflict that began in 2014 with a regional program called the “Pipeline Pathways” project claims that trees prevent first responders and crews from having immediate access to pipelines for inspections, maintenance. routine and necessary closures or repairs during emergencies. Residents and supporters of Save Lafayette Trees as well as the Lafayette Homeowners Council, Sierra Club, Pipeline Safety Trust, Audubon Society, Lindsay Wildlife Experience and more than 2,900 people in 2018 who signed a petition to prevent the logging trees are categorically opposed to cutting down trees. .

PG&E further claimed that tree roots pose a potential risk to pipeline safety. The company’s original proposal called for the felling of 1,200 trees within the city limits. In 2015, an updated tree list was reduced to 272 trees on private and public property and the project was renamed the Community Pipeline Safety Initiative (CPSI). The number of trees deemed “at unacceptable risk” was further reduced to 207 in 2018.

The staff report included information relating to the Lafayette municipal code: “Removal of more than 25 protected trees constitutes a major tree removal project in accordance with the Lafayette municipal code, requiring as mitigation, payment or planting. , or a combination thereof, equal to the total amount assessed City’s consultant landscape architect Michael Baefsky independently assessed each tree proposed for removal by PG&E in 2016, provided a tree assessment for each tree protected in accordance with city regulations and calculated the mitigation fee for the removal of these trees In March 2017, the city council authorized the city manager to sign the letter of agreement for the removal of these trees. trees with PG&E requiring PG&E to submit information in accordance with the city’s tree protection ordinance and receive city approval before proceeding with the removal of arb res proposed. or planting mitigation trees, and placing the collected mitigation payments into a new restricted reserve fund. “

Following the lawsuit filed by Save Lafayette Trees in response to the 2017 letter of agreement between the city of Lafayette and PG&E, the gas and utilities company filed for bankruptcy in 2019. In 2020, PG&E continued the city ​​in bankruptcy court over 2017 letter of agreement for tree removal. Srivatsa said PG&E still offers to cut more than 200 trees, but to date has not submitted all the information needed to process a permit to cut trees. In an effort to avoid litigation and reach a new agreement to resolve the issues, Mayor Susan Candell and Srivatsa have met with representatives of PG&E since early 2021.

The scoring report includes criteria for the selection of pipeline safety experts and arborists for the advisory team. Detailed information is also included on the items included in the pipeline safety assessment, such as depth, diameter, pressure, age, coating, soil stability and pipeline corrosion parameters, among others. Arborists will assess whether a tree poses a real safety concern based on assessment criteria, including the species of the tree, its health, and its proximity to the pipeline.

In public comments at the meeting, Michael Dawson, co-founder of Save Lafayette Trees, said he walked all five pipelines and inspected each tree in question. Dawson said: “I am convinced that there are no trees in Lafayette which present a safety hazard.” He added that he was optimistic that PG&E would come to the same conclusion and while noting that the integrity of the pipeline is of paramount importance and of increasing importance, tree cutting is not necessary to ensure the safety of the pipeline. gas pipeline for the community.


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