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.
I hope some takes this to the US Supreme Court, ONCO employees and executives are bullys
and they need to be disolved and bankrupt.
Mr. Prince: I read with interest and disgust your article, “Too Much Power,” in the Feb 11 edition of the Fort Worth Weekly. An informative write-up on an all too-common occurrence here in north Texas.
The issue here is the legal interpretation of property rights. When one combines politics, jobs, economic growth, and Eminent Domain (another grossly mis-used legal device), the institution of property rights is non-existent because it cannot deal with a core by-product of economic growth based on the profit motive–negative spillover effects. The problem is most acute here in Texas (and in north Texas in particular) because of the rarest of resources, open land. Big companies like Oncor and most (all?) land developers use the law to rape the land. And we see that court judges and city leaders are all too-willing to go along. How many times have injustices like this appeared in the press and TV in recent years? A chronilogical history of these incidents in Texas alone would make for good reading.
I have no hope for the land in Texas (and elsewhere). The root cause is too many humans and their leaders who think the earth and its environment are inexhaustible resources. This mind-set is encouraged by the institution of private property properly tweaked by Eminent Domain. Humans are not going extinct (see Paul Erlich’s 1970 book, The Population Bomb), hence the rape of the land will continue at an exponential pace. We have no concept of balanced, sustainable growth where open farm land or a stand of old-growth trees is more valuable than a new strip shopping center or a high-speed railway. This mind-set is continued via the passing of the land from the older family to the younger family benefactors. The latter are more than willing to sell off a parcel here and a parcel there to the vulture developers for the upfront cash. The fiction of private property is further erased. And technology cannot reverse the situation and in fact may promote it.
That’s the problem–too many people now and way too many in the future with a legal institution abetting the situation in a way it was never intended. A book of insightful thoughts in this regard can be read in Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development by visionary, Herman E. Daly, Beacon Press.
Good writing. I’ll look for more of your articles.
I personally wretch each time I pass Oakhurst Scenic Drive and see the loss of trees and native vegetation.
In 1980 and 1985, I planted oak trees in the Oakhurst Bluebonnet Common Area to honor the births of my sons, Josef and Mikael. I hauled water in 5 gallon buckets to get the trees established. Later a water tap and an irrigation system were installed. The trees flourished.
Recently however, during the most devastating drought of the century, Libby Willis and Ginger Bason, as president and vice president of Oakhurst Neighborhood Association, for various reasons, decided to not allow irrigation at this site. I verbally begged, pleaded, cursed, cried, and then wrote letters and emails asking them both to please allow irrigation — all to no avail.
During this time, both of my sons for whom the trees had been planted, were diagnosed with devastating illnesses. Saving the trees became a mission for me. My husband and I found out we could adopt the area and personally assume financial responsibility for the water bill and upkeep – we did. We now maintain the area and water according to the City of Fort Worth’s watering schedule. Once we feel confident the trees we planted in the 1980’s have been stabilized, we plan to plant another tree.
As I stated earlier, it makes me ill to see the loss of trees anywhere — especially in our beautifully treed neighborhood. Because of this loss, I am sad for Ginger. Unfortunately, now each time she enters the street to her home, she will be reminded how abuse of power and abusive actions often times have far reaching effects on people and the things they love and cherish.
I really can sympathize with all the people that has commented on this article. However, when those huge trees and the wind we have here in Texas caused you to not have power for weeks on end you would be upset about that also. At some point there has to be a happy medium between big business and consumers. I hope that somewhere down the line you guys can find that place, unfortunately everyone will never be happy at the same time.