Wilmington: City Of (Problematic) Trees

Feb 15, 2014

Fallen tree limbs line the streets of downtown Wilmington.
Credit Jason Tyson / Twitter @JTysonWrites

The city of Wilmington prides itself on its "urban forest." Beautiful Oaks, Myrtles and Dogwoods line the historic streets. The Wilmington Tree Commission hands out awards to properties with particularly good preservation and landscaping policies. It's consistently named a "Tree City USA" by the National Arbor Day Foundation.

But when an ice storm hits, limbs begin to fall. And so do power lines.

"It's a choice that we make in this community that we want a good, strong, urban tree canopy," said Mayor Bill Saffo. "And sometimes we're gonna have to take into consideration, in an event like this, that the trees are probably the biggest culprits because they bring down the power lines."

At one point during the storm, nearly half of Wilmington residents were without power -- more than 50,000 customer. It was by far the hardest hit region in the state, with lines going down early Wednesday, before most of the state had even begun to feel the effects of the storm.

"I told you so..."

This problem didn't creep up out of nowhere. Mayor Saffo said conservationists and power companies have been at odds for years about what do with the forestry. Energy companies want the trees trimmed, if not removed; nature groups want even more plants throughout the city. While snow storms might not be frequent, hurricanes can pose just as many (if not more) problems when it comes to falling limbs.

"So what we saw here was a little bit of an 'I told you so,'" said Saffo. "But, we've been trimming as best we can."

So far, the city has towed the middle ground - keep the trees under control, but don't remove them.


And the mayor suggests that maybe the trees aren't the problem so much as the above-ground power lines. He noted that the beaches didn't see nearly as many outages, because many of their lines are underground.

Of course, burying lines costs money. A lot of money. So it's unclear what will change in the near future. But the mayor says it's something they'll have to discuss when all interested parties meet after the storm for an emergency management debrief.