CHIMACUM — Jefferson Public Utility District officials are eyeing updates to the district’s vegetation management policy to discourage fires and reduce power outages.
The commissioners and staff met in a special meeting Tuesday at the Chimacum Fire Station to hear a presentation by Scott Bancroft, special projects manager, on the policy and also a presentation by staff members Tod Eisele, substation and metering technician, and Colton Worley, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) technician, on fire mitigation.
The Public Utility District (PUD) is analyzing its policies regarding trees, vegetation and tree limbs staying clear of electrical wires and transformers to prevent such fires as the 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed Paradise, Calif., and other communities.
That blaze was sparked when a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E) power line came in contact with a communications line and the resulting fire killed 85 people and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings.
Staff members are looking at ways to avoid the liabilities of other utilities such as PG&E to protect public, staff and contractor safety, Bancroft said.
“We’re looking at this through different eyes,” Bancroft said. “We’re all looking at this and taking it very seriously.”
Bancroft and staff are working on a final draft policy to present to the commissioners at an upcoming regular meeting.
Bancroft explained that trees close to electrical lines pose a significant risk for fires and power outages.
“Trees are recognized for their tremendous contribution to the environment. Unfortunately, trees growing in the wrong place have a potential to threaten the reliability of one of the most important commodities upon which our modern society is quite dependant —electrical service,” he said.
The PUD has a budget of $750,000 for tree trimming/vegetation management and Bancroft expects that he and his team will use all of that.
The policy now has a seven-year rotation on tree-trimming in various areas. Right now, the PUD has focused on clearing lines throughout Coyle and the Toandos Peninsula.
“I’m going to be confident on the tree trimming once we’re done with Coyle,” Bancroft said.
Within the policy, Bancroft hopes to improve the PUD’s record keeping of what areas have had tree trimming; public relations/outreach for the public to understand how far to keep trees/vegetation from electrical equipment and what wires are electric verses communication; increasing education for staff by attending arborculture/horticulture seminars, workshops and conferences to keep up on best practices in vegetation management.
Basic regulations ask for short trees (Dogwood or Redbud for example) and vegetation be planted more than 10 feet away from both utility poles and electrical wires, with larger trees needing to be 20 to more than 50 feet away to grow safely, Bancroft said.
Around padmount transformers (transformers mounted on the ground), vegetation should be planted more than three feet away from the transformer in all directions, with clear access to the opening panels, Bancroft said.
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].