This angered many residents in the Fisher Park neighborhood, and after the story ran we heard that residents clear across town — just outside High Point, actually — are experiencing the same problem. They say the trees are cut drastically, that residents weren't warned as Duke claims and that Asplundh employees were rude and left a mess.
One of the residents featured in the article, UNCG professor Kay Lovelace, called us the morning the article ran. After initially telling her that they would only trim a single mulberry tree in her backyard, an Asplundh representative called to say they would be cutting all the trees lining the edge of her backyard because they interfered with a power line. Lovelace believed the change was in retaliation for her public criticism of the company, and invited YES! Weekly to attend her meeting with the company the following morning.
Asplundh representative Eddie Webb was one of the people Lovelace expected, and when I wrote the initial article I spoke to Webb and he refused to answer any questions about his company, saying I needed to call Duke. After explaining that I understood and would do that I asked him to confirm that they contracted with Duke, but when I asked if Asplundh was based in Greensboro, he hung up on me. In fact, even after finally getting a hold of Asplundh's spokesperson I still couldn't get any questions answered, and while I spoke with her briefly she did not call me back with any information.
The meeting was set for shortly after 7 a.m., so I arrived a few minutes before the hour with a photographer trailing a few minutes behind (because it was early, not as an intentional move).
Asplundh representative Phil Moser was already there, and when Lovelace introduced me he was visibly bothered.
"I'm not going to talk to her while you're here," he said. "I'm just going to cut. You need to get with Duke Power."
The purpose of the meeting was to explain to Lovelace which trees needed to be cut, how it would happen and why, and she hoped to convince them not to cut as severely as she feared, even showing them photos of the birds that roost in the trees as a deterrent. I stated I had no intention of leaving but would leave it up to Lovelace what she wanted to do. After all, it was her property and her trees.
She decided I should wait in the drive way along the side of the house, where I could see the representative but not hear him as he gestured towards the trees and pointed out specific branches with a green laser pointer.
Soon after Eddie Webb showed up, and as he walked past me I introduced myself and asked for his name, to which he replied that he needed to get to the backyard. Webb and Moser did not give their names, but Lovelace provided them because she was told who would meet with her.
They took photos of the trees with a digital camera before leaving and telling Lovelace they would be back the next morning —Feb. 24 — at 7 a.m. so she would be home from work and could watch.
"The homeowner has to negotiate with them," Lovelace said to us after the meeting. "If you're not there you don't have any control."
At least three Asplundh trucks were already parked in front of her house at this point, with cones behind her property marking off space around the trees in question. The result of the meeting was that two trees, the mulberry and a cedar, would be cut, but Lovelace felt they might be more reasonable about how much was removed. They agreed to cut the cedar at an angle, she said, leaving more of the tree in tact.
Along with photographer Justin Jackson, who snapped a few shots of the trio standing in the backyard from the same distance I stood, I talked to Lovelace briefly before leaving to see if we could find Asplundh operating anywhere else in the vicinity. Sure enough, we found a whole fleet parked along East Bessemer, and while there was no active cutting, nearly 10 employees were on hand.
As I drove Jackson back to his car in front of Lovelace's house, just over an hour since Lovelace's meeting began, we noticed Webb sitting in an Asplundh truck on her block.
Webb had returned, and so after dropping Jackson off I circled around and parked so I could see her house from a concealed location around the corner to see what would happen. As I parked, Lovelace called to say she was on her way to work but Webb had just contacted her to say they were actually going to cut the trees as soon as possible. The only explanation she was given was that Asplundh's arborist had insisted they finish it that day as originally planned, she said.
Lovelace said she also knew the company was cutting on Carolina Circle a few blocks away, and a quick check while I waited for Webb's crew to set up confirmed it. Before long, a myriad of Asplundh trucks was parked in front of and behind Lovelace's house. I felt like we were playing a cat and mouse game of sorts, so once they were set up and I was positive they intended to cut her trees, I parked and approached.
Webb was less than pleased to see I was back, but neither he nor his employees said anything to me as I stood and waited for them to cut. Before long, everything was in place and Webb explained to his men which specific branches would have to be cut. Once one of them was in the basket on the end of a truck's arm, hovering above the center of the tree's crown, Webb occasionally stopped him from cutting a branch, saying it could be left in tact.
Coincidentally, District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny, the district where Fisher Park is located, drove up for a business meeting nearby and got out of his car to watch briefly. He understood the residents' concerns, he said, but once spring came and the leaves were back it wouldn't look so bad. He knew because it happened in his neighborhood before too, Matheny said, and he saw little alternative for Duke because the lines needed to be maintained and cutting more frequently would likely be much more expensive.
Photo 1: Asplundh representative Eddie Webb, left, uses a tool to indicate which branches should be cut.
Photo 2: Webb, left, watched as an Asplundh employee cut branches, some of which can be seen on the ground, from Lovelace's mulberry tree.
Photos and article by Eric Ginsburg.