STOW — Residents along Pimlico Boulevard said when they built their homes a couple of decades ago, they knew there was a commercial gas pipeline running through their backyards.
Gary Papes said he even sought approval from the previous pipeline owner before he started adding plants in the 1990s. The trees his college-age children planted as 4- and 5-year-olds are now 25 feet tall.
But Sunoco Logistics bought the pipe in 2011 to use for transporting ethane gas, and now wants to clear the easement of potential damaging roots.
“When you have large trees and shrubs, you have root systems that can compromise the integrity of the pipe. That can damage the surface of the pipe, leading to corrosion,” said Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields.
On the chopping block are some 150 mature trees — including pines, weeping willow and birch — along with tall shrubs that Pimlico neighbors planted to separate their lawns from the eighth hole of the Roses Run Country Club golf course.
In many cases, the growth comes to within a few feet of their homes, and is used to line paths or mark entrance points to their yards.
And in some cases, neighbors stand to lose most, if not all, of their backyard landscaping.
In September and October, pipeline representatives visited the homeowners twice to let them know removal would begin soon. But adding to the neighborhood angst: They still do not know when the crews are coming, and what will be left when they are done.
Councilman John Pribonic said City Council invited Sunoco to a meeting to answer questions, especially since neighbors said they were given different information during the two visits. Residents showed up; Sunoco did not.
For instance, two shoulder-high pine shrubs that stand next to two pillars marking the entrance to Dan Cunningham’s backyard got thumbs down from one Sunoco representative, but thumbs up from another.
Also, neighbor Scott Houck said one representative told him the company had changed its mind about cutting the trees altogether, though Pribonic said in an early December conversation with company representatives it seemed the plan was still moving forward.
“We haven’t heard from anyone since then,” Pribonic said. “Before that, there was a sense of urgency, like maybe they were coming tomorrow and we’ll do whatever we want. That’s why we wanted to invite them to council — not to hang them out to dry, but to get the same answers for everyone.”
While Sunoco owns 50 feet of right-of-way on either side of its pipeline, it is seeking only to keep 20 feet on either side clear of vegetation, Shields said.
He added that there is really no standard regarding what can stay or go: Sunoco prefers there be no growth in the easement at all.
“While we sometimes allow low-growing shrubs and flowers, there really should be no obstructions on the right of way,” Shields said.
No date has been scheduled for the clearing, he added, but “we will notify landowners when we do. Trees will be marked approximately one week ahead of time.
That’s little comfort to the people of Pimlico.
Resident Diane McClusky said the foliage in her backyard offers some privacy from the golf course.
Even more important, it protects the house from balls that go astray. Prior to growing the green barrier, her husband, Curt McClusky, said he annually collected more than 150 golf balls a year from his lawn — some of which left their mark on the siding or occasionally broke a window.
“The day they take those trees down, we’ll put a for sale sign on our house,” Diane McClusky said. “We’re right in the firing range.”
Shields stressed the clearing is necessary to keep the pipeline safe.
In addition to stopping roots from damaging the pipe, Sunoco is required to do aerial inspections to spot any potential damage or unauthorized construction, and foliage gets in the way.
A clear easement also allows easier access to the pipeline for maintenance or emergency crews, he added.
“As these pipelines come online, it takes on a greater urgency and the clearing really can’t wait. It needs to be done,” he said.
The neighbors, however, are concerned about what it means to be “done.” A recent news story recounted the tale of New Franklin homeowners who said it took months of fighting to get their lawns properly restored.
“What are we going to be left with?” homeowner Cunningham asked.
Shields said the procedure is to remove stumps and reseed the affected area, though specific landscaping is not replaced.
“As with any pipeline, safety is paramount, though we also understand that trees and landscaping are important to any property owner. We will work with homeowners to address their individual concerns, where possible,” Shields said.
Houck said he doesn’t understand why the company is so focused on the residential property when the pipeline goes through dense woods just several yards away.
“Why don’t you do that first before you get to our little backyards,” he said.
This article was written by Paula Schleis from The Akron Beacon Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.