“Mind-boggling” and “disgust.”

Those words from Flower Mound Council Member Ann Martin were among the comments directed at Oncor officials during council's March 18 meeting. Council members described their reactions to residents’ trees that were cut down along High Road and Rolling Hills during Oncor’s work on an electric line upgrade in Flower Mound, according to a council agenda memo.

Several residents voiced their dismay in losing trees during a public hearing, and council members spoke directly to Oncor Area Manager Eric Montoya and local people representing state legislators offices. Mayor Derek France told Montoya that Oncor took the wrong approach in removing trees and did not properly communicate with town leaders, adding that over 43 trees were cut down.

“You got away with it this time—[but] we’re not going to let it happen again,” France said.

Council members asked for state lawmakers’ interest going forward in giving municipalities more power against electric providers and that lawmakers can do their part to prevent or minimize future incidents.

How we got here

Kerri Dunn, senior communications manager with Oncor, said March 19 that Oncor tries to balance safety and reliability needs with tree health and aesthetics. She said the company understands residents’ concern over tree removals, which were a departure from previous work done in the area. Unlike other projects, this work was not part of routine maintenance trimming, as it was a construction project focused on upgrading the power lines to improve service reliability and support local growth. Dunn said as part of this upgrade, power poles, wires and other equipment had to be safely accessed, removed and replaced by Oncor personnel and contractors. The upgraded equipment includes multiple new power lines, which requires a greater clearance, or distance, from the power lines and any nearby vegetation.

She said trees were trimmed back to meet the necessary safety clearance, or distance, from the new lines in all instances possible. Removed trees were limited to those directly under the power lines or those that would not be able to survive the amount of trimming necessary to allow the necessary access and safe clearance. A certified arborist was on site.

Zooming in

Dunn said Oncor wants to improve communication going forward. Oncor has remained in communication with town officials and residents to provide project updates, answer questions and address remaining concerns, Dunn said. The company is in the process of working with town and county officials to secure approvals for relocating the overhead transformer to a nonresidential area. The company also will perform additional stump removal clean up beneath the power lines.

"We did make notifications, but it's clear to us that those notifications weren't thorough enough and it wasn't clear to those residents the extent of the work that would be done," Dunn said, adding Oncor apologizes for not being clear enough in those notification processes.

For this project, communications for nearby homeowners and town officials included hanging notification door tags about the tree trimming within the area and providing contact information for Oncor, speaking directly with residents whose property was adjacent to the tree removals and updating town officials about the project and sharing tree trimming and removal requirements.

As far as the removed trees, council members and attendees were told not much can be done now. Assistant Town Manager Tommy Dalton told council Oncor declined to replace them and the town can’t help in that matter.

The trees were located in the right of way and within the easement of Oncor. France said leaders can’t regrow the trees but can try to prevent this event from happening again.

What they’re saying

“This whole thing has been a disaster—a lot of these trees were 100-200 years old,” Council Member Chris Drew said, adding he wants legislators to identify a path forward to prevent this from occurring again and that town leaders better communicate to residents when these events are going to occur.

Council Member Adam Schiestel offered some recommendations in an agenda item in which direction was given but no action taken. Schiestel said the town should seek restoration of trees in accordance with the franchise agreement and hold Oncor accountable, and get more transparency from Oncor in the future on tree removal in the next franchise agreement.

Denton Central Appraisal District Chief Appraiser Don Spencer told council the properties were evaluated as of Jan. 1 and the tree-cutting actions taken on their properties affecting their subsequent values would be taken into effect next year.