Flower Mound leaders this week sent a loud and clear message to Atmos Energy: Don't mess with our trees.
Atmos officials publicly announced their intention at Monday night's town council meeting to clear cut 25-feet on either side of their natural gas pipeline that runs 12 miles through Flower Mound.
Charles Yarbrough, Vice President at Atmos Pipeline-Texas, explained that the trees needed to be removed from their right-of-ways to protect the 24-inch high pressure pipeline that is located primarily in private easements.
"It is because of safety," said Yarbrough.
He explained that the trees hinder their response to an emergency situation, prevent effective surveys required by federal and state regulations and the tree roots can cause damage to the pipeline.
Sherry Kelley, Vice President of Operations at Atmos, told council members that the company uses a helicopter to check the pipeline for problems and the tree canopies blocked its view from above.
Some of the affected neighborhoods include Tour 18, Wellington, Kensington Court, Sanctuary, Old Settlers, Oaks of Lake Forest, Lake Forest, Doubletree Trail, Lexington, and the Lakeside business district. See map here. More detailed maps here (large PDF file).
Yarbrough said that the pipeline, which runs from Clay County, TX to Irving, first went into commission in October 1960.
He admitted that tree maintenance should have been done earlier but stressed that it needs to happen now in order to enhance safety. He informed council that the work was scheduled to begin November 1 and warned them that failing to clear the trees would put citizens at risk.
"Our hope was to be able to target three areas initially before the holidays; Tour 18, the industrial area on the east side of town, and the Sanctuary."
Their presentation drew a strong rebuke from Mayor Tom Hayden, council members and Texas Senator Jane Nelson.
"Right through the heart of town, a logging operation is coming next to people’s properties," said Hayden. "It seems like you're doing it because you can, not because you’re concerned about the residents of Flower Mound."
Senator Nelson, a Tour 18 resident, stated that according to her research tree removal is not a federal requirement.
"There is no requirement in state or federal law to clear the right of way, nor is there a requirement in law that is directing Atmos to take this specific action," said Nelson. "I have expressed to Atmos my strong dissatisfaction over the lack of discussion or even adequate notice that was provided."
Yarbrough apologized for the communication breakdown that resulted in some landowners and homeowner's associations being notified before town officials.
"What has happened here in Flower Mound is that initial contacts have resulted in information being spread out in a wider way than we originally intended. We didn't ask anybody to post it on a website," said Yarbrough.
At the end of the meeting, Yarbrough agreed to work with the town staff to find common ground in order to minimize tree removal and wait until after the first of the year before any work begins.
"We've gotten off on the wrong foot but I hope we can get back on the right foot quickly," said Yarbrough.