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Swissvale Trees Left Dying After Gas Line Work, Neighbors Saddened

100 year old trees are now history after gas line construction on Delaware Street.

Although Noelle Badertscher is a historian—not an environmentalist—she considered the trees outside of her home on Delaware Avenue to be gorgeous ambassadors of the past.

But today, those same trees now stand with dropped leaves, bare and dead. 

Badertscher and her neighbors said the trees began to die after Peoples Natural Gas completed line maintenance earlier this month—cutting the sidewalk in half and trenching through the trees’ roots.

Now, although it’s the middle of summer, Delaware Avenue looks like a street in autumn, littered with fallen leaves.

“They are what I loved about this street," Badertscher said. "I’m heartsick that they so carelessly plowed through them. They cut through them like a hot knife through butter.”

The neighbors said they didn't receive notice that construction would occur the week of June 11 on their road. They claim it wasn’t until they saw the Peoples Natural Gas trucks and heard the jack hammer pound that they knew anything was happening at all.  

“It’s been very curious to us—this lack of communication. I don’t remember getting a thing from the borough or the gas company,” said Andy Munster, who has lived on Delaware for more than 30 years. 

 Mayor Deneen Swartzwelder said she did not feel comfortable making an official statement on behalf of the borough, but did express regret for the residents and said she hopes the gas company will fix the situation. 

Barry Kukovich, corporate spokesperson for Peoples Natural Gas, said trees all over western Pennsylvania are losing leaves due to drought—and these trees are no exception. 

"I appreciate their concern but when you have leaves falling all over Western PA, I doubt it has anything to do with our gas lines," said Kukovich. 

Kukovich said if concerned residents call the customer service center to complain, the gas company would be happy to come out and assess the situation.

Mark Demkee, who lives in the neighborhood, is more concerned about the hazard that the dying trees pose to the community. With the speed the leaves shed, he worries that branches could start snapping off, which could damage property or hurt residents. 

Demkee said he contacted the borough and Peoples Natural Gas to complain about the damaged trees. 

"They’re in the dark as much as we have been," he said, adding that the gas company said they would get back to him. 

Complaints aside, the neighbors want to work with the borough to make things right and get back to life on their quiet street. 

“We need an appropriate replacement before they lay a sidewalk. That needs to be priority," Badertscher said. "The borough of Swissvale may own the actual trees, but their history and beauty belong to all of us."

John Moyer June 27, 2012 at 12:08 PM
First thing, the company spokesman shouldn't have acted so defensive in denying responsibility. That just makes the company appear insensitive to the community. Secondly, they should have expressed immediate empathy, as did the mayor and then make a statement about exploring the matter thoroughly. You would think People's Natural Gas would have trained their spokespeople in customer service skills. I guess for so long they could get away with that since they were the only game in town. They better review their PR policies.
Noelle Giguere Badertscher June 27, 2012 at 01:12 PM
Amen John. Perhaps he missed that day in PR class where you don't call your customers liars. Not only am I now EXTRA mad, but I'm 1000 times more motivated. -Noelle Badertscher
Stephanie Rex June 27, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Thank you for telling us about this story, Noelle!
Noelle Giguere Badertscher June 27, 2012 at 01:29 PM
Hi Stephanie, I can only hope that this doesn't happen on other streets.
JustMe June 27, 2012 at 01:32 PM
What a shame. These trees aren't victims of drought-like conditions, their roots have been severed by thoughtless and careless workers, and the trees are dying. You can't "REPLACE" 100 year old trees. Doesn't anybody have any respect or appreciation for anything anymore? And shame on the borough if it failed to keep residents apprised of the work scheduled to be done. A little communication could have gone a long way.
JD June 27, 2012 at 02:21 PM
you should call an arborist to assess the situation. they can determine if the trees were killed by this, and you may well decide to file a claim against the borough. of course, they will have to raise taxes to pay the claims. the same thing is happening here in edgewood. i received no formal warning about the activity. and we actually own the trees and the sidewalks. they're ripping everything up. no idea if there was an environmental study. no idea if an arborist is overseeing the work as we have 100+ year old oaks. those oaks, by the way, were planted and maintained by edgewood until they got expensive. then they transferred ownership to residents. they cost hundreds a year to maintain, but they are beautiful and they are ours. if the borough kills them, i expect that they will pay for removal, and compensate home owners for the loss in home value. they are a major part of our neighborhood. they also need to repave the sidewalks.
Noelle Giguere Badertscher June 27, 2012 at 02:35 PM
JD, thank you very much for the support. From what I have been told the borough has had an arborist access the trees and has declared them dead, although the borough has not communicated that directly with me/us. I am considering paying to have a 2nd opinion, just as ammo. I did know about the Edgewood tree-transfer, my brother-in-law has spent a small fortune maintaining his trees.
Sue T June 27, 2012 at 03:27 PM
If you are in Edgewood, the bourgh does have the press release and the schedule for gasline replacement on the website at: http://www.edgewood.pgh.pa.us/ If your street is on the list, I would contact the bourgh to see if they are planning to hare an arborist present when the work is done. I know the borough had one involved when they replaced the sewers on our street and when Duquesne trimmed the trees.
Pat Schaefer June 27, 2012 at 05:21 PM
This is a public utility project not a Borough project. As soon as we were contracted and prior to any activity in Edgewood, the Borough manager toured the streets with the PNG engineers and consultants and identified issues with line replacement including street repaving, sidewalk replacement, and tree roots. Based on this, they identified the best location for the lines which have to be replaced. A notice that there was going to be a PNG line replacement in Edgewood was placed in the May newsletter. As soon as we had the schedule of streets, the PNG press release and the schedule were posted on our website. We continue to monitor the process and are in touch with our arborist.
Noelle Giguere Badertscher June 27, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I'm glad at least Edgewood has their stuff together.
Chef Chuck Kerber June 27, 2012 at 06:48 PM
It's laughable that Barry Kukovich from People's Gas would say, "trees all over PA are losing their leaves." and that he doubts it has anything to do with the digging going on. If that were the case, wouldn't ALL of the trees be losing their leaves? Really Barry... This has nothing to do with drought, it has to do with the lack of planning prior to taking up the sidewalks.
JustMe June 27, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Thanks, Pat, for being so organized and proceeding in a logical manner.
Barbara Simon June 27, 2012 at 10:41 PM
How silly is this! Any tree that has its roots cut through will die. Now it's possible that half the tree would die sometimes. This happens when the tree's roots are wrapped around the trunk of the tree eventuallu strangling it on one side - this is called root girdling, but here, the whole tree died. The party in question cut through a main tap root or something like that. The gas company is DEFINITELY at fault. The trees should be removed completely ASAP and replaced with new, albeit smaller, trees that will eventually provide the shade and greenery desired. Also a big apology is in order. And the sidewalks should be replaced. This gray gravel fill is miserable. It's over here on Denniston Avenue too. Miserable sidewalks. Are they going to leave them like that? Horrors.

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