Oncor, the electric company whose repeated decimations of trees are legendary, has outdone itself this time. The company recently wiped out hundreds of oak and cedar elm trees in a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.Residents believe many of the trees could and should have been spared.
“I just can’t even stand to drive up,” said Valerie Lucas, whose house is adjacent to the damage. She was pulling into the long, steep driveway that she shares with neighbor Ginger Bason.
“It looks like complete devastation,” Lucas said. “We had such a nice private area. I feel like my home’s been taken from me.”
“It won’t grow back in our lifetimes,” Bason said.
Oakhurst Scenic Drive is one Fort Worth’s prettiest byways, with a large stand of old-growth trees covering a steep slope on the east side of the street and a close-up view of the downtown skyline to the west. Hidden among the trees are many houses, whose owners feel like they’re living in the country even though downtown is just three miles away.
The neighborhood sprang up in the 1920s, separated from downtown by the Trinity River. Construction of I-35 in the 1950s pushed traffic noise into the neighborhood, although the tree-lined scenic drive helped dampen the noise.
The Texas Department of Transportation is now preparing to widen that stretch of I-35 and also increase the highway’s height. That means Oncor is required to increase the height of several of its electric towers to raise its power lines. Three towers in the wooded area near Oakhurst Scenic will be replaced by towers 19 feet taller. They’ll be in a new “mono-pole” style, less imposing.
Oncor sent a representative into the neighborhood last summer to pass out fliers announcing the planned cuts. When Bason saw the man in her neighbor’s driveway, he handed her a flier and told her the trees would be coming down.
“The first person who came out here was really abrasive,” Bason said. “He said, ‘We have the right to do it, and we’re going to do it. We’re going to cut 50 feet through there, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ ”
Bason, a master gardener and former president of the Oakhurst Neighborhood Association, grabbed her phone and got busy. She called the homeowners association members and various neighbors to rally resistance. Oncor is required to meet with residents before cutting trees in a registered historic district if the neighborhood requests it, Bason said.
“They had to talk to us,” she said.
Oncor spokesman Justin Ozuna said the company is always willing to discuss plans with neighbors and get their input.
“Throughout the past year, we’ve listened to the concerns of the Oakhurst community,” Ozuna said. “We’ve been involved in ongoing conversations with landowners, community members, and the neighborhood association to answer questions and address any concerns.”
The residents said the company listened –– but took few of their concerns to heart.
Ozuna said Oncor has “worked closely with city staff, the Fort Worth forestry administration, and TxDOT to determine the minimal vertical and horizontal distances that we needed to operate safely.”
After the unpleasant experience with the first Oncor representative, Bason said, the company sent more supportive people to meet with neighbors. Those individuals promised they’d be careful when cutting, she said.