By Ryan Cornell
Five months ago, Kenny and Cindy Rinker hired a professional tree trimmer to climb up the pin oak in front of their Woodstock home and remove its dead branches.
They spent about $500 for the services.
The pin oak, estimated to be about 70 to 80 years old, provides shade for the house, which can get hot in the evenings because of its western exposure.
"And there's nothing particularly spectacular about it except it's our tree," Cindy Rinker said.
So it was a shock to the Rinkers when they came home one day in mid-September to find their tree, and many others lining West Court Street, missing their branches and natural shape.
She said some of the trees looked like there were "giant V's" cut out of them while others appeared to be from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book.
"When you come up the street, it looks like a tree out of 'The Lorax,'" she said.
Cindy Rinker said they had received a letter from Dominion Virginia Power notifying them in advance of a tree trimming, but she said it was unclear when it would happen.
"My husband came home and drove up the hill and was shocked to see [half of] it was gone," she said. "There was no communication or anything.
"That, I think, is the most alarming thing," she said. "We weren't really consulted about it."
Dominion Power, which trims trees on a three-year cycle, gives homeowners a notice about a month in advance, said company spokesman Chuck Penn. He said customers signed up for the eBill program would receive it in their email inboxes.
Penn said the company only selects qualified electric utility tree trimmers who meet ANSI A300, the industry standards for tree care practices.
"Generally, trees that we trim are right on top of our lines, encroaching to the point of being a safety or liability issue," he said.
"We'll go through areas, and to keep them off conductors and power lines, it's always a balancing act between residential customers, who have a lot of financial and emotional investment in their homes," he said. "It's a sticky issue respecting property owners' value of trees and trimming trees for safety and reliability."
At the same time, the Woodstock Tree Board is hoping to increase the town's tree cover from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2021 through its Urban Tree Canopy Plan. Board Member Angela Clem said the board recently developed a tribute tree program in which people can donate $150 for a tree and $50 for a shrub.
She said they prepare the trees they want to plant and consult with a power company to ensure that they're not close to utilities.
"If we have the trees planted in the right place in the beginning, the trees can reach their full potential," she said.
A PDF document on the town's site, townofwoodstock.com/treelist, outlines the recommended trees to plant in urban areas with their mature heights and average crown spreads.
Cindy Rinker said a representative from Dominion Power met with them and agreed that the tree had been excessively trimmed. She said he offered to remove the tree at no cost.
But for now, she said she is hoping some of it will grow back.
"That's about all you can do," she said. "See what it looks like next year."
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org