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Avoid planting willow, alder or maple trees near power lines

We like to think – and encourage – safety first when it comes to any home repair.

Last week we talked a lot about safely using ladders and also reminded you all to call 811 two business days before digging more than a foot deep on your property to make sure you aren’t going to run into any underground utilities. This service is done usually at no cost to you.

Today we’re taking a closer look at the trees near and around your house.

NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor is a non-profit organization that deals with all kinds of housing issues, so it only takes one winter here to realize that falling trees can impact the safety and well-being of our houses and the residents living in them!

Even if a tree never comes crashing through your house, it’s likely that you have been affected by a power outage at some time due to a broken limb or felled tree somewhere along the powerline that serves you.

One way we can reduce a future of danger and potential outages is by paying attention to what kinds of trees we plant under or near power lines.


With everyone eagerly planting and digging in their gardens, now is a good time to review which trees give the Grays Harbor PUD the most trouble.

It’s alder, maple and willow trees that are the top three on the PUD’s most Not Wanted list – at least not near their power lines.

“We call alder, maple and willow trees ‘cycle busters,’” said Jeff McClain, construction superintendent at GHPUD. “We have a basic four-year tree trimming cycle throughout the county, but these trees will grow 10 to 15 feet a year so we often have to go back in between cycles to trim them again.

“We who live in Grays Harbor love our trees. It’s beautiful here. However, especially in wintertime, the tree-related outages are our biggest culprits,” he said.

Because they grow easily and quickly, it’s these three species that give the PUD lots of extra work.

The PUD spends $1.5 to $2 million a year on tree trimming, McClain said. “It is a huge cost for us and we have to do it because it’s the law, for one thing, and also to ensure safety and reliability of our system,” McClain said.

In addition to the regular trimming cycle, McClain is constantly conducting tree triage – to prioritize which potentially threatening trees outside the current scheduled trimming area need to be addressed.


The Grays Harbor PUD doesn’t just tell their customers which trees are particularly burdensome; they also offer a suggested list of Western Washington landscape trees that might make good options.

However, they do so with a caveat that “trees planted in Grays Harbor County receive an abundance of moisture as compared to areas further inland. The trees listed can develop and grow 15 to 20 percent taller than the 25 to 30 feet as advertised by tree nurseries.”

That’s why regardless of the type, you should never plant a tree directly under high voltage power lines, telephone and communication lines or over the top of underground wires, gas lines or water and waste water pipes.

The PUD and each city have a list of suggested varieties deciduous broadleaf and broadleaf evergreen trees in their websites. Remember to call before you choose and before you dig.


In addition to not planting the big three – alder, maple and willow – anywhere near powerlines, the PUD wants Grays Harbor residents to know which trees are the responsibility of the PUD and which are up to the homeowner to deal with.

The big power poles with transformers on them have small “service lines” that go to the mast on the roof of each individual’s home.

“We will trim 10 feet around that pole and the first 10 feet from the pole along the service line,” McClain explained, adding that if you’re in doubt, give him a call.

If you have a tree or know of one that has grown into the power lines, or believe the tree is dead, decaying or presents a hazard to the electrical system, call McClain at (360) 538-6284. He said typically he’s able to take a look at the tree within a week.

If the threatening branches are clearly more than 10 feet from the pole on the service line, it’s up to the homeowner to trim the tree. If that’s you, make sure you call the PUD at least 48 hours of when you – or a hired tree service worker – intend to trim or fall the tree.

Again, simply call the PUD so that the service dispatcher can arrange to remove the service line – take it completely down – before the trimming.

Around here there are plenty of folks who know how to cut trees. However, as we often say with any contractor, make sure the tree service you plan to hire is licensed, bonded and insured for the work they are doing.

Dave Murnen and Pat Beaty are construction specialists at NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor County, where Murnen is executive director. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or buying, call 360-533-7828 or visit 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen. Our office is fully ADA-compliant.

Do you have questions about home repair, renting, remodeling or becoming a homeowner or one of our contractors? We have rehab loan funds at tailored rates! Call us at 533-7828, write us or visit us at 710 E. Market St. in Aberdeen. Our office is ADA compliant, complete with a designated disabled parking spot, ramp and ADA compliant restroom.

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