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Duke Power, City Of Durham Debate Tree-Trimming Procedures

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DURHAM, N.C. — When the snow started to fall Thursday night, many Durham residents hoped it wouldn't bring a repeat of last month's ice storm that tore down trees and power lines.

Duke Power took a lot of flak for the length of time it took to restore the power. But now the utility company is firing back.

The issue at hand involves Durham's woodsy image along places like Gregson Street, where tall trees are intertwined with power lines. Duke Power officials say that is one of the reasons it took so long to restore power to parts of Durham last month.

Tree trimmers poked through Durham's Forest Hills area taking down storm-damaged limbs and cutting back others that threaten power lines.

Some who suffered through ice-storm power outages last month would like to see more trimming.

"Well, I think it would save tons of money and people a lot of trouble if the distance was changed between the power lines and trees, definitely," said Durham resident Catherine Farrell.

The city requires limbs be cut back no further than five feet over power lines. In comparison, Raleigh requires no more than eight feet be trimmed.

In response to questions from the State Utilities Commission, Duke Power officials said Durham is the most restrictive municipality they work with. They would like to discuss widening the distances to be cut in order to minimize damage in future storms.

"I'm not so sure that Duke Power has raised these issues before with the city staff," Durham Mayor Bill Bell. "That's one of the questions I'd like to ask."

Bell said he has not seen the questions or Duke Power's responses. He said he is waiting for final reports from state-level reviews.

Last month, in the midst of the storm recovery, Bell took residents'concerns to Duke CEO Bill Coley.

Now Bell's willing to discuss new tree trimming procedures, if necessary. But the city will also have to deal with those who oppose the idea.

"I'd love for Duke Power to be able to do something about running the lines underground," Farrell said.

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