PG&E officials came to the forested town of Angwin to talk about wildfire safety, with some residents wary that new tree-cutting policies near power lines goes too far and is done with too little communication.
At the request of Supervisor Diane Dillon, Matt Pender of PG&E addressed about 100 people crowded into the Angwin fire station. He said PG&E is establishing a network of weather stations, is setting protocols for powering down lines in extreme conditions and is managing vegetation near lines.
“Unfortunately, all of Angwin is at extreme fire risk,” Pender said during the sometimes feisty proceedings on Tuesday evening.
The talk came in the wake of a June determination by Cal Fire that trees falling on PG&E power lines caused the Atlas and Partrick fires in Napa County last October. Napa County, along with Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties, earlier this year sued PG&E to recover costs related to the Northern California fires.
The meeting also came amid concerns both in Angwin and the Mount Veeder area over how aggressive PG&E has become in cutting down trees near power lines. Angwin resident Kellie Anderson said one area near Summit Lake Drive looks like a ski run.
Residents asked Pender to answer their questions, such as why PG&E doesn’t put lines underground. Pender repeatedly said the format was for him to give a presentation and PG&E officials to answer questions one-on-one afterward at various exhibits.
“You’re going to answer our questions in here as a community, not at individual stations where no one can share the same feelings,” resident Rui Bastos said, echoing other residents.
Dillon tried to keep the meeting on track.
“PG&E agreed to come up here with a number of their folks based on this format,” Dillon said. “I’ve done the best that I could to get them here.”
Soon afterward, Napa County Fire Chief Barry Biermann came forward to talk about evacuation routes and wildfire preparedness. He took questions from the audience at length.
At one of the exhibits, resident Beth Rodda peppered a PG&E official one-on-one with questions on behalf of a client. PG&E usually uses a local tree firm to trim trees around power lines on the client’s property and all had gone well until this year.
Now the tree firm is using a subcontractor, resulting in different colored tags being put on fruit trees to remain and trees to be cut down. Tags even went up around a pond, apparently for safety reasons, which Rodda called “ludicrous.” A 100-year-old oak was targeted to come down, she said.
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“No communication is the real key,” Rodda said after the meeting.
The subcontractors eventually left and all appears well for the moment, Rodda said. But she thinks they could return in future years.
“Just overkill,” she said. “Total overkill.”
The PG&E official gave her his card. Asked if she was satisfied with her conversation with the official, Rodda said, “Maybe.”
Pender said during his presentation that the utility is working closely with property owners to create fire defense zones where vegetation and fuels are limited.
Some Mount Veeder residents have complained about PG&E policies for more than a half-year. They’ve mentioned aggressive PG&E tree-cutting policies involving contractors going onto easements crossing people’s properties with little communication. Some Mount Veeder residents said contractors appeared to have little knowledge of local trees.
A PG&E official told the Napa Valley Register at the Angwin meeting that questions from the media needed to be directed to the utility’s media line.
Everyone at the Angwin meeting seemed to agree on one point.
“Obviously, we are all very concerned about fire,” Rodda said.
A PG&E poster at the meeting depicted a treeless, brushless fire defense zone of 15 feet on either side of power lines in extreme fire-threat areas. This defense zone helps slow the spread of fires and creates a safe space between the lines and trees and brush, it said.
PG&E established a wildlife safety operations center to monitor wildfire risks, another poster said. The utility had installed more than 50 new weather stations as of June, with 200 planned by year’s end. These stations monitor temperatures, wind speed and humidity to help predict wildfire danger.
“Community safety and your safety and the safety of all of our communities is PG&E’s number one priority,” Pender told Angwin residents.