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.

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