Slideshow: Duke tree cuts in Westerwood infuriate residents

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Victoria and Neill Clegg are the kind of people that put a lot of pride into their yard — planting bushes, nurturing trees, cultivating calm, and decorating with birdhouses.

“This yard is legendary,” a neighbor explained.

The Clegg’s home, in Greensboro’s Westerwood neighborhood, is stop #6 on next week’s tour of historic homes by Preservation Greensboro and buttresses another that is a stop on Westerwood’s annual art walk.

This morning the quiet character of the Cleggs’ backyard was transformed by the sounds of buzzing chainsaws, as contractors for Duke Energy ascended trees along the side and behind their home on Crestland Avenue. By 10:30 a.m., tempers flared, the police had been called, Victoria Clegg had left the scene crying and the assistant city manager arrived.

It’s just the latest incident in a multi-year saga in the neighborhood and city as residents and city council members alike struggle to figure out ways to preserve tree canopy within laws mandated by the state utility commission. Residents noted the irony that they didn’t lose power during a massive ice storm earlier this year but didn’t have power this week while Duke Energy carried out trimming and maintenance.

Residents in Westerwood and several other neighborhoods convinced the city to create a new tree ordinance aimed at blocking more extreme vegetation management last year. With participation from Duke, council passed a stricter ordinance but failed to obtain support from the utility commission on several tighter regulations that Duke opposed.

As she watched workers carry away chopped limbs to feed into a chipper, neighbor Donna Allred lamented a generally held feeling of impotence.

“I really feel like it’s futile,” Allred said. “We went all the way up to the utility commission and it didn’t change a thing.”

A swell of supportive neighbors including Allred watched as the Cleggs fought with employees of Duke Energy and its subcontractor, Asplundh. The couple, who hired a private arborist and paid $900 in December to avoid these more extreme cuts to the trees on their property, felt lied to and betrayed.

Cut limbs destroyed plants they had cared for and had been promised wouldn’t be harmed, they said. Duke Energy vegetation management specialist Jason Combs promised any damage to private property would be compensated. At one point Victoria physically restrained Neill, whose threat to call Immigration & Customs Enforcement stopped Asplundh temporarily. Later admitting he lost his cool, he noted that it had been more effectively than preceding expletive-laced demands from the couple that the workers leave.

After tensions cooled, eased by a sympathetic Greensboro police officer and a work stoppage, Assistant City Manager David Parrish talked with residents and Combs. He suggested another community meeting might be necessary.

Soon after, John Graham of Preservation Greensboro arrived, fired up and followed shortly by two news crews.

“The cavalry’s coming out for this,” he said. “This is no small potatoes. Duke is the real culprit here and they have no sense of community. We’ve got your back on this one and we’re furious. They have awakened a sleeping giant.”

This is a partial summary of events. A complete article will appear in next week’s print issue of Triad City Beat.

  • Marilyn Wolf

    Great coverage, Eric. As a resident of Westerwood, I thank you for your prompt response to this horrible situation. Marilyn Wolf

  • Peter Larson

    Wow – threatening to call ICE to stop the cutting? Interesting approach.

  • Wal, Al

    Probably not the persons mentioned, but some in this area are simply snobs; it’s great Duke won this one–it’s about egos, and nothing more, Asplundh, you’re not “good enough.” Here, the City pulls out all the stops while ignoring other areas of town, entirely.

    • Peter Larson

      Absolutely!

    • If you understood this situation or had spent the time and energy on your own yard to have it wrecked for no good reason, your response would be entirely different. I know the persons mentioned and they are not snobs or egotistical, but they were rightly proud of all the work they had done in preparation for this tour.

      • Wal Al

        My tear-ducts leak as I re-read my first five words. Poor tour… Poor, poor tour…

  • This is about due process and ordinances which are being flagrantly ignored and trampled on after months of hard work by residents in Westerwood, Southside, and other communities of Greensboro to get a hearing on Duke Energy/Asplundh practices. And the fact that a year later, we’re back with the same behaviors is unconscionable. It’s not about being “good enough” but about following the ordinances, the proper PROFESSIONAL tree trimming techniques and being courteous to residents who have been damaged by the cutting but also the broken trail of promises.

    • Wal Al

      Dang me, I could have sworn one of those Officers had had a session with “Internal Affairs”–or so I was promised, long ago. He is obviously concerned about both his law enforcement career and trees–I can’t outright ask him how things went: it is illegal. Let’s hope the CRC puts the heat on Miller–who could use a “road trip.”

  • Bulent Bediz

    Duke, Duke, Duke! They came into Glenwood too. Butchered so many trees. Mutilated so many precious old growth trees, I would rather have 10 days, 20 days without electricity than to live by these ugly amputations.Every time I see one of these deformed beauties I feel wounded myself.

    UNCG, UNCG, UNCG! Nobody is paying any attention to the total devastation this nonprofit is causing in Glenwood. How about documenting the hundreds of trees they cut down for the “Spartan Village” and for the “Wreck Center”, and the many homes they demolished. And they award themselves medals for “TREE CONSERVANCY efforts!”.

    Then, there is the other story: We have a mayor who cannot see the forest for the trees!

    Stupid!

    • Wal Al

      Yes, but UNCG and the GPD recently increased the “quality of life” in the area by doing their jobs.

    • Wal Al

      I remember a neighborhood that used to be a college baseball stadium; Greensboro has excellent Universities, lots of potential, and excellent Universities.

  • Wal Al

    It’s discrimination pure and simple: City comes out their cubicles to kick jazz clubs to High Point Road, declaring curfews and war on baggy pants–but not enough is done for Northeast, and other areas not known for wealth. Worse than Perkins–who is responsible for his problems, although one should assume all of us will have calamity at one point or another–Vaughn appears to have been elected over “trees.” Anyone going to City Council informing them of police corruption–and other issues people who bounce to better gigs leave behind for the rest of us–is clueless about the slightest reality, and would be much better off hob-nobbing the golf course on Sunset Drive (disguised as Coble).