A neighborhood east of downtown is outraged by what residents call the “butchering” of oak trees by Mississippi Power Co. crews this week as the utility company makes way for power lines along Second Street.
Crews have been trimming trees up and down the street, and residents have taken to Facebook to express frustration over what they say is “unnecessary” and “massive” destruction of their trees.
In about a three-block area, large sections of trees — including oaks — have been removed. Tree limbs and branches remain piled up in some yards.
“It’s much more extensive than normal. That’s our main issue,” said Ward 2 Councilman Ricky Dombrowski, who is a Second Street homeowner.
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“I imagine the crew is doing what they’re told,” he said. “Unless the arborist is right on top of them, they’ll cut more and more and more. That’s where we stepped in. We were hoping to prevent some unnecessary damage.”
Siobhan Bailey, another homeowner, had stronger words.
“They are not trimming,” she said. “This is butchering.”
Bailey said she’s lived all over the country and in Canada and Belgium, and has never seen this much damage left behind by utility crews.
Mississippi Power spokesman Jeff Shepard said the standard clearance for maintenance is 15 feet from the line to the branch, which is the standard for electrical companies across the country.
“It’s in accordance with standards in the utility business,” he said. “We follow these standards with everything we do — tree trimming, pruning, herbicide.”
He noted one of the biggest causes of outages is tree limbs or branches that come in contact with power lines.
Shepard said he hasn’t received complaints about Second Street in particular, but is familiar with the issue and said he’d look into it.
“We understand,” he said, “but it’s about providing reliable service, not just in Gulfport but everywhere, because the grid is connected.”
The tree damage takes away from the appeal of the neighborhood, said one Second Street neighbor who asked not to be identified.
The trees have both sentimental and aesthetic value, he said. Not many oaks on Second Street, which is one block north of the beach, remained after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, making the presence of the survivors a reminder of resilience. Biking and running clubs often hold events on the street because of the natural beauty of the overarching oak tree canopy.
“I’m no tree hugger,” the neighbor said. “This year, the crews just seem to be overly aggressive. I’m not an arborist, but I’d say they’ve taken down a decade’s worth of growth on these trees.
“A power line has a fixed cost. It’s a whole lot easier to move a power pole than to raise an oak. You really can’t put a value on an oak tree.”