JAMES ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Save our trees. That's the cry for help from neighbors on James Island where SCE&G says they are working to improve the power system in the Riverland Terrace neighborhood.
But in order to do that, they have to trim the trees. And to say neighbors are upset is an understatement.
"They're representative of everything the Lowcountry is to the people who move here. They have historic significance. They're very large. They've been here for generations," Matt Dailey, a resident of the Riverland Terrace, said.
SCE&G says they need to upgrade the power system to the neighborhood because it's 70 years old. And that requires a trim – 20 feet above, 10 feet to the side and 10 feet below the wires. And officials with the electric company said they need that much room for safety reasons.
"We're not talking about trimming anymore… We're talking about a significant cut into the canopy that's been here for hundreds of years," Dailey said.
SCE&G said they are working closely with multiple people to ensure, if the trees are trimmed, they will be cut where the tree will still be healthy. The company's forester has been meeting with those involved – and looking tree by tree by tree. So the trimming will be case by case.
A petition has been started to show SCE&G that many don't want the trees touched.
And multiple people are now involved hoping to come up with alternatives.
"What we're trying to do long term is come up with a protocol – like a template – that can be in place for all of Charleston County," Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey said.
One of the potentials is putting the power lines underground – but that could cost several million dollars.
"If it's four million dollars and we preserve every tree in there… Then I'm for it. I'm not for the county paying four million dollars, I'm for collaboration," Qualey added.
Neighbors, those with the city and county, South Carolina elected officials and SCE&G have a meeting in a couple of weeks to talk about the options and figure out which ones can be implemented. And neighbors feel the saving of the trees has been a long time coming.
SCE&G responded to several questions about this trimming:
How vital is the upgrade?
There are two main things here – the age of the system (reliability) and redundancy of the system. SCE&G needs to upgrade the 4kV distribution system feeding the Riverland Terrace neighborhood to 23kV to enhance service and system reliability. The current system in 70 years old. It is the oldest inland 4kV system we have right now. Also, converting to 23kV will allow us to improve the redundancy of the system by enabling it to be re-fed from nearby sources. The 4kV system serving Riverland Terrace is surrounded by 23kV systems. This creates an island effect and reduces redundancy options to refeed the neighborhood in the event of a failure on the 4kV system. It is SCE&G's obligation to provide safe and reliable service.
A 10 foot by 10 foot by 20 foot cutting of the trees seems excessive – can you explain why so much is needed?
The last system upgrade to Riverland Terrace was about 70 years ago. The higher voltage nature of the new 23kV system requires additional clearance from the trees than a 4kV system to ensure safe and successful operation. A 4kV system affords some additional flexibility in the required clearance from tree limbs as it has far less electric potential than a 23kV system. More information on our tree trimming can be found at www.sceg.com/treetrimming.
There has been a potential option talking about putting the powerlines underground – how much would that cost? Is SCE&G open to the idea?
Yes, placing the lines underground is an option that the community can consider. There are many variables that must be considered in estimating the cost to go underground. A detailed engineering design would need to be completed and equipment locations would need to be secured from customers. If SCE&G took the same formula used for the Crescent (a past neighborhood underground project located in the City of Charleston) and applied it to Riverland Terrace and then added additional cost for inflation in construction costs, the undergrounding project for Riverland Terrace is estimated to be $4 million for just the main feeders at a minimum. It would take a more detailed engineering study to get a more precise estimate and Councilman Joe Qualey is working on that now. Councilman Qualey indicated during the meeting with residents on April 20 that he is interested in looking at alternatives, including getting a signed OWIP (Other Work In Progress) agreement in place from Charleston County to cover engineering expenses and to develop options.