What’s With That? Lessons of a Tumbled Tree

On a recent blustery day, a thunderous crack and immediate darkness in the kitchen alerted me to a wayward limb obstructing the power lines.
    Dangling from our power lines and blocking our road was the top half of a neighbor’s pine tree.
    We should call someone, the gathering of alarmed neighbors agreed.
    Who do you call when a tree takes a swan dive onto a public road?
    As we debated the finer points of tree jurisdiction, the Anne Arundel County Police arrived. The officers used crime scene tape to block off the road, then drove away.
    “If a tree falls and it’s blocking a county road, you should call the appropriate road district,” advises county Department of Public Works spokesman Matt Diehl. Call Southern (410-222-1933), Northern (410-222-6120) or Central (410-222-7940) districts, depending on your location.
    Our response was prompt — but incomplete. A county truck with a bulldozer arrived within minutes. The worker took one look at the branches leaning on the power lines and left — just as the five-o’clock commuters began to come home.
    “Our first priority is safety,” explains Diehl. “Our supervisors will assess. After the appropriate authorities determine the area to be safe for our workers, we’ll go in and clear.”
    In other words, the county isn’t about to remove debris touching a power line. Who does deal with the power lines?
    If there’s a power line involved, your first call should be to Baltimore Gas & Electric.
    “If a wire is down or anything is on a power line that shouldn’t be there, our customers should call us,” says BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy.
    Even if you’re not sure who owns the power lines, BGE will come out, assess the damage and contact the company that maintains the lines.
    If you’re having a bad storm and the power goes out, it’s likely that BGE has workers nearby to respond.
    “We are always monitoring the weather,” explains Foy. If there is a particularly nasty storm system coming “we may call in more resources and station them in counties where the weather will hit hardest.”
    In my neighborhood, commuters parked their cars on both sides of the street, sidestepping the crime scene, to walk home.
    When the wide BGE truck arrived, it had no room to squeeze past the sea of cars.
    “Our crews deal with a lot of access issues,” Foy says.
    Like dozens of cars clogging the road.
    As the BGE assessor made the necessary calls, streams of people emigrated from the neighborhood. Families carrying suitcases and overnight bags flooded back into their cars. Some drove over lawns to get around the obstruction and out of the neighborhood.
    By the next afternoon, the power was back and the tree was lying in mangled bits on either side of the road.
    Who’s paying for all this?
    The answer depends on who removes the tree.
    If BGE does, their tree crew contractors work at the cost of the company.
    If the county removes the tree, it could be more costly for whoever owns the land the tree stood on.
    “If a tree or something that comes from private property must be moved right away, the county and the road crews will remove it from the road and place it back where it originated,” Diehl says. “It is the responsibility of the owner of the property to remove it from there.”