Local News

Tree-cutting plan pits Orange County residents, utility

Posted November 29, 2010 6:35 p.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2010 6:58 p.m. EST

— A fight is brewing over forests in Orange County and parts of Chatham County.

Officials with the Orange Water and Sewer Authority said they need to cut down some trees in 1,900 acres of forest that surround its reservoirs to protect the land, but nearby residents contend that OWASA will only hurt nature and water quality.

"To be honest with you, my first reaction was one of horror," said Terry Newton, whose Efland property abuts OWASA land. "The reason we bought this place was because of what you see – the land, the wildlife, the water."

Newton and her neighbors said cutting trees could hurt the water quality of Cane Creek Reservoir, which supplies drinking water to Chapel Hill and Carrboro. They also point to a photo from a project off Buckhorn Road, where OWASA recently cleared out most of the trees.

"It would break my heart," Newton said, if anything like that happened near her property.

Patrick Davis, the sustainability manager for OWASA, said culling some trees is necessary for the health of the forest.

"It would not be a high-quality forest (without culling)," Davis said. "It's more susceptible to insect damage, to disease, to hurricane damage and to catastrophic fire."

OWASA will keep trees in areas bordering its reservoirs to act as buffers to filter out pollutants, and most areas will retain most of their trees, he said.

"We are in no way talking about clear-cutting 1,900 acres," he said.

OWASA will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Maple View Agricultural Center, on Dairyland Road in Hillsborough, to obtain public input before the utility's staff presents the plan to its board, which could happen as early as next month.