Set for removal
PG&E says it has to remove dozens of trees along Highway 92 to protect a pipeline in the area. Clay Lambert / Review

In an effort to create safer access for first responders during an emergency, PG&E is preparing to remove dozens of trees near its natural gas pipeline along Highway 92 in Half Moon Bay. It’s part of the utility company’s “Community Pipeline Safety Initiative” required by state and federal regulations to prevent gas leaks and speed response times in the event of any emergency.

The project site covers the south side of Highway 92. There are, however, some light industrial, commercial, and residential uses on adjoining lands, including the city’s maintenance yard, the Hilltop Mobile Home Park, Spanishtown shops, and some undeveloped woodlands. PG&E is proposing to remove 79 trees and about 115 “brush units.” The vegetation management is part of a multi-county program to clear areas around the gas pipeline.

To lessen impacts to sensitive habitat, PG&E will not remove trees from areas along the bank of Pilarcitos Creek, according to a city staff report.

In order to begin the project, PG&E is seeking a Coastal Development Permit and a final review from the city’s Planning Commission. If approved, the work would begin in September and require at least two days of evening work that will impact traffic on Highway 92. The entire project will last three weeks with follow-up maintenance required every one to three years.

The tree and brush removal will be limited to specific vegetation that poses a hazard to the pipeline, the company says. Trees can block access for firefighters or maintenance crews and the tree roots can also cause damage to the protective coating of underground pipelines leading to corrosion and leaks. As part of the project, PG&E will replace a little less than half of the trees that are greater than 12 inches in diameter, many of which are eucalyptus trees. City staff is recommending that all tree replacements be planted within city limits and aid to habitat restoration efforts.

“The purpose of the project is for safety,” city Senior Planner Douglas Garrison said. “It’s something that really has to be done.”

He said there were two major issues about the project, one concerning the esthetics of the views from Highway 92 and also the effects on the habitat for wildlife.

Planning Commissioner Rick Hernandez expressed concerns about the removal of trees along a visual corridor.

“The community is going to see this every day and see it as soon as it happens,” he said. “I appreciate the importance of protecting our water and utilities, but what are we going to do to mitigate the impact on this visual area?”

Garrison said he doesn’t anticipate a significant change and when the trees are replanted it may be possible to do so in a way to replicate what was originally there in some areas.

The Planning Commission will have a final hearing on the project at its July 14 meeting.

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