Friday, April 9, 2010

Editorial: Trees, power lines always conflict

The unnamed Courier editor agrees that APS needs to slow down and that power lines don't necessarily warrant unchallenged right-of-way on Prescott streets. He even risked the 'p' word in urging utilities to "adopt more progressive policies about neighbors' coexistence with trees," at which point I about fell off my chair. But again I reached the end of the column disappointed that the editor can't seem to get beyond the surface of the issue.

The problem is far larger than one poorly planned power line vs one old Ponderosa pine. It's far larger than the widely reported gratuitous and radical destruction of trees by APS as well.

The situation that made the news came about because the rules changed a couple of times on how far lines must be spaced away from trees, and rather than provide a longer-term solution and move the lines, APS (with the City's blessing) has chosen instead to mow down trees that have been perfectly OK for many decades. The editor seems to have missed that dynamic entirely.

But that's still not the whole picture. Look around. We normally see right past it, but if you open your eyes a little wider you may notice that the view in most Prescott neighborhoods is dominated by electrical lines and raw poles. We've come to accept it as normal, but it's nasty to look at and, given weather and all sorts of moving hazards, unsafe and unreliable. Its only virtue is that it's relatively cheap. Should that be the primary value in this transaction?

APS is a monopoly provider sanctioned by the state for our area. We have no choice about that. In return for this captive market, it's both legally and ethically right to demand that the company serve our community values as well as it does its shareholders.

The hundred-year legacy of overhead power and communication lines is not a cherished tradition, it's always been an eyesore and safety hazard. A forward-thinking community that cares about quality of life will find ways to gradually move that creaky old infrastructure underground as roads, sidewalks and alleyways are repaired and replaced. Conserving our trees is an important part of a bigger picture, the sort of vision for our community that our elected leaders and City staff should bear in the front of their minds at all times.

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