Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has been cited after it used a huge “wire saw,” made up of eight whirring blades suspended from a helicopter, to prune trees without warning in a San Mateo County park this winter.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection issued the utility giant a Notice of Violation dated Dec. 16, 2021, for carrying out work without permission along a transmission line in Wunderlich Park.
This is one of 17 such violations Cal Fire’s San Mateo-Santa Cruz unit has inflicted on PG&E and its contractors since October 2020 for violating the company’s Public Resources Code. state, said Richard Sampson, a Cal Fire forest practices inspector who is investigating The Utility.
During a Dec. 15 inspection, Sampson observed “numerous” branches ranging from 2 to 8 inches in circumference that were cut by the overhead saw and dropped from 150 feet above, according to the violation notice. .
“No trail or area closures have been placed or any signs posted to keep the public away from the area as they would have if the county was aware of the operation,” Sampson wrote in the statement. ‘opinion.
PG&E admitted that its contractor mistakenly extended the use of the overhead saw for several hundred feet in Wunderlich Park while it was being used on adjacent private property, but denied that it endangered anyone. . Only the limbs have been pruned; no trees were felled, said PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras.
“Ground crews preceded and followed the route (and were in constant communication with the pilot) of the overhead saw, so there were no safety issues related to pruning on park property, and the public was in no danger at any time,” Contreras said in an email.
Additionally, she said, making sure trees don’t touch power lines “is critical to maintaining safe and reliable electrical service.”
A fallen tree in one of PG&E’s power lines west of Cresta Dam sparked the massive Dixie Fire last year, ultimately destroying more than 960,000 acres in five northern California counties as it was burning across the Sierra Nevada, state investigators found.
PG&E introduced the heli-saw in a press release in early February as a new vegetation management tool to reduce wildfire risk. In the release, written by Contreras, the saw is described as “a safe and effective way to prune trees” in hard-to-reach areas, such as snowy or muddy areas that might be difficult to access in a vehicle. .
“A plane on your property with a big machine hanging down is a little scary right off the bat,” a man wearing a shiny safety vest says in a video embedded in the release. “However, it is by far the safest and most comprehensive treatment you could have to completely clear a hold.”
PG&E, Contreras said, is aware of issues raised by Cal Fire and San Mateo County Parks regarding vegetation maintenance work being conducted on a transmission line corridor that falls under Wunderlich, as well as Huddart Park. at Woodside.
The utility is drafting a response to both agencies, she said.
However, a bigger fight could be brewing.
Sampson said Tuesday the utility could face civil or criminal charges for repeated violations in the area related to logging and fire tool rules. He said he wrote a case report detailing the violations, which is being reviewed.
That’s an escalation from the Notice of Violation, which Sampson says is considered the lowest level of enforcement.
The case report, he said, could turn into a civil penalties case or be referred to the district attorney or attorney general.
Contreras said the utility is in discussions with Cal Fire and other state authorities to resolve “the conflicts that exist between PG&E’s state and federal obligations to perform and complete its fire safety work.” required forest fires and CAL Fire’s belief that we must obtain a Harvest Document or Utility Right-of-Way Permit to do so.
The utility’s main concern, she said, is that obtaining the permits would “effectively prohibit or delay” its ability to carry out wildfire mitigation work, such as clearing vegetation.
Los Angeles Times