Members of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors said Tuesday that they would need more details from PG&E before the utility moves forward with a proposal to remove hundreds of trees from county property as part of a larger tree and vegetation removal plan to boost access to its gas pipeline network.
The board was the latest government entity to hear from PG&E about its controversial Pipeline Pathway Project, which in recent months has angered and concerned some East Bay residents and city leaders who say PG&E cannot unilaterally cut down trees.
The public indignation over the proposal has prompted PG&E to slow down the plan and utility officials have agreed not to cut down any trees before reaching agreements with cities and counties.
However, utility officials say removing vegetation and even some small structures such as free-standing garages over the utility's gas pipeline is essential for public safety -- one of PG&E's top priorities in the wake of the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed 8 people and damaged some three dozen homes.
PG&E Vice President Kirk Johnson addressed the Board of Supervisors at its meeting in Martinez Tuesday about the dangers trees and their roots pose to the pipeline.
Johnson said that for decades, the utility has been "too customer-friendly," allowed property owners to plant trees too close to the pipeline and has been lax on reinforcing previously existing guidelines about planting trees above the pipeline.
Now, he said, PG&E has seen that "tree roots have the ability to interfere with the safety and protection of our pipeline from external corrosion -- corrosion impacts the integrity of the pipeline."
In addition, trees situated just above the pipeline make it difficult for workers to access and maintain the line and check for any safety issues, he said.
Still, PG&E officials have pledged to slow the five-year, $500 million tree removal plan until they have inked agreements with the cities, counties and private property owners involved.
"It will take a while to get there but this is what we would like to see to eliminate the risk," he said.
PG&E has put up thousands of line markers and signs to clearly mark the pipeline and is dispatching patrols and sending out mailers to boost awareness of keeping pipeline access areas clear, he said.
Debra Mason, a Bay Point resident who spoke at Tuesday's meeting, agreed that removing the trees is necessary.
"It's sad to see an oak tree go...but I think we have to put the people and our community's safety first," she said.
However, several other speakers said removing the trees would significantly downgrade their homes.
"To clear that pipeline would be ruinous to our community, it would ruin our property values, it would ruin our ambiance," said Pleasant Hill resident Yehudit Lieberman.
Susan Fuller, who lives along the Iron Horse Trail in Pleasant Hill, asked PG&E to consider alternatives to removing the oak trees that line the yards in her neighborhood.
County staff Tuesday said that PG&E must provide more specifics about where they plan to remove trees before it can work with the utility on the proposal.