Colleton Avenue, Trimming

Those upset with tree trimming near Colleton Avenue and Kershaw Street in Aiken tied themselves to a tree on Wednesday afternoon after crews had left the area.

A contingent of Aiken residents gathered along a Colleton Avenue parkway on Wednesday morning to decry the latest round of tree trimming in the area.

The trimming – pruning limbs away from power lines, as companies and crews are allowed and instructed to do – was described by group members as "slaughter," a "butcher" job and, at several points, "rape."

The group, comprising six or seven people, was seemingly led by Joanna Samson, the president of the Aiken Land Conservancy.

"I'm miserable about it," Samson said, standing beside a pile of branches. "I was out here crying."

Samson and the others did not take issue with the fact that trees need to be cut back. Samson acknowledged trimming's public safety applications, and she did not blame the crews doing the work. It was the way the cutting was done, and how much was removed, that proved to be the flashpoint.

Bettina Ruckelshaus, who lives across the street from Wednesday's tree work, said the trimming needs to be more calculated and more precise.

Susan DeBruhl was one of the people out on Colleton Avenue. She described the trimming as a shearing.

"It was very poorly executed," DeBruhl said.

Samson, like Ruckelshaus, said selective cutting would be the preferred approach. In a follow-up email sent to the Aiken Standard, Samson said a shorter trimming cycle would also help.

"As you can see, I'm so deeply, profoundly upset," Samson wrote.

Tree trimming is typically done on a five-year cycle, Scott Neely, the city of Aiken's South Carolina Electric & Gas liaison, has said. The actual cutting is handled by subcontractors.

SCE&G follows American National Standard for Tree Care Operations guidelines, according to the company's website.

Trees can be cut a minimum 20 feet back from above a power line and 15 feet back from the sides of a power line, according to SCE&G information.

"ANSI A300 trimming may appear drastic at first, but results in healthier trees long-term since fewer cuts are used," the website reads.

Calls made to SCE&G were not immediately returned.

The public outcry on Wednesday, which included several members of the Colleton Avenue assembly tying themselves to a tree and posing for photos, is not the first of its kind. An earlier round of cutting along Banks Mill Road left the group disgruntled.

City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said the public's concern is on the city's radar, and discussions with SCE&G have ensued.

The city's tree consultant and management firm, Bartlett Tree Experts, has been made aware of the complaints, too, Bedenbaugh said, and will be accompanying tree trimmers in the near future.

The city's trees are collectively appraised at more than $130 million, according to a recent inventory conducted by Bartlett Tree Experts. Aiken has also been repeatedly named a Tree City USA.

On Wednesday, Mayor Rick Osbon responded to the trimming outrage. 

In a lengthy statement, Osbon described the city's trees as priceless, the Wednesday pruning as liberal and his general reaction to it all as "utter dismay."

Osbon said he had received several calls on Wednesday about the Colleton Avenue cutting.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin