Pleas for the trees Farragut residents hope LCUB will reconsider its plans for power lines

September 23, 2006

Matt Hollingsworth climbs the tree every chance he gets.

It has stood beside the Farragut Greenway, just a few yards from the 9-year-old's home in the Holly Oaks subdivision, for as long as he can remember. Of all the trees, it's his favorite.

In a few weeks, it could be gone.

Power lines run for miles along the length of the greenway - over, beside and among the trees that Matt and his neighbors love. Nearly every tree now bears a red dot or X, from the towering willows to the 5-foot-tall cedars.

The Lenoir City Utilities Board plans to cut most of the trees down in the next 45 days. LCUB officials say it's the only way to ensure safety and allow crews to install newer, sturdier poles and more-efficient power lines.

Residents say the plan means the death of the greenway and a slump for their property values.

"You're talking about hundreds of trees," said Jim Hollingsworth, Matt's father. "It's clear-cutting a swath for three and a half miles through town. And it's a shame, because this is such a beautiful area."

Natural beauty fueled the growth of the Farragut area - the same growth that's now put the trees in danger.

The Tennessee Valley Authority stretched the power lines in the 1960s, when most of the Farragut subdivisions were still farmland. Now the lines along the greenway carry electricity from the LCUB substation on Watt Road to homes throughout Farragut and West Knox County - from the Hollingsworth house in Holly Oaks to the Turkey Creek shopping center to Baptist Hospital West on Parkside Drive.

Every month, an average of more than 100 customers hook up to the lines, according to LCUB figures. Just last month, the utility picked up 132 new residential customers, along with 38 new businesses, said Fred Nelson, LCUB general manager.

"There's no way around it," Nelson said. "We have to have the electricity. Farragut is growing. This is the price of growth."

The ever-increasing demands on the 40-year-old lines have led to power failures in recent months, he said. LCUB officials blame some of the outages on mechanical problems but trace others to the trees.

"There's trees already burning in that line now," Nelson said. "If you look at the tops, you can see where they've touched the line and burned. Imagine if a kid were climbing that tree."

Residents say they understand the need for maintenance and safety. They've offered to pay to have the trees trimmed. Some have suggested putting the power lines underground. LCUB officials say those solutions aren't practical.

"It's not that we don't want the trees trimmed," said Righ O'Leary, whose children play nearly every day under the two weeping willows in his front yard. "We just don't want them cut down. They've been here for the duration of that line. To come in here and just cut everything down is excessive."

The utility has promised to meet with each homeowner before the cutting begins to decide which trees can be saved. Matt still holds out hope for his favorite tree, but he and his father wonder.

"I just don't see how all these trees are a danger," Jim Hollingsworth said.