Decent shade in Arizona is hard to find and may become even more difficult as Arizona Public Service crews follow through with plans to remove trees from under a stretch of 250,000-volt high-power transmission lines that bring power into the Valley through Ahwatukee Foothills.
But the alternative to cutting back the vegetation between Knox Road and Chandler Boulevard could be worse than the elimination of some shade.
“Trees can become conductors of electricity, and we simply can’t afford to take a risk with anything that comes near our power lines,” said Damon Gross, spokesman for APS.
Several residents have asked him not to cut down the trees, in one case arguing that the caller’s grandchildren like to play in one specific tree. But Gross said that was exactly why APS needs to cut down the trees, so that no one is injured in the event that a limb comes in contact with one of the un-insulated high power lines.
Keeping the power lines safe has put the Mountain Park Ranch Homeowners Association in the middle of a mini-battle with homeowners who want the trees left and the power company that wants to keep the juice flowing.
“I want to keep the beauty, keep the home values up, but at the same time I have to look at safety first,” said Jim Welch, executive director of the HOA.
And some homeowners like John Barnabas understand.
“It’s a kind of balance,” he said last week, looking at the trees and the power lines in the city-owned greenbelt that runs through the community.
But others wonder at the rush to cut.
“How long is it going to take to grow that high?” asked Robin Dirks as she looked at the power lines and several small trees.
One problem is that not only do trees grow up, but power lines stretch and dip closer to the ground in hot weather and when carrying heavy electrical loads, as in summer, officials said. So what looks like plenty of clearance today will be reduced in just a few months when the temperature breaks 100, Gross said.
APS had marked about 40 trees for removal but Gross said that after calls from Welch and a community meeting last week with some unhappy homeowners, the power company is taking a second look to see what trees need to be cut.
“We have committed to the people in that community that we will go through again and see if there are any that indeed could remain, with the understanding that those trees would still have to be maintained and pruned to keep them a safe distance away,” Gross said.
And whatever trees are removed, Gross said that APS will provide a like tree for planting outside the power line corridor.
One question is who planted the trees in the first place.
The greenbelt is actually a utility corridor owned by the city of Phoenix, which runs through the Mountain Park Ranch HOA area.
Welch said he had no idea who planted the trees. “They’ve been there forever.”
Gross also had no idea who planted trees under the power lines.
Michelle Dodds, a planner with the city of Phoenix and Mountain Park Ranch resident who walks under the power lines often, said she suspected it might have been the developer back in the 1980s, but she wasn’t sure.
Regardless of who did it, the trees will be coming out in the next few weeks.
“We have to address it,” Gross said.