'Tree massacre': Mary Esther resident says FPL destroyed vegetation, 'butchered' her property

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

MARY ESTHER — Longtime city resident Toni Wurth likens recent work done on her property to a “tree massacre.”

Florida Power & Light (FPL) “asked me several months ago if they could prune around the power lines on my property,” said Wurth, whose property stands on the west end of town and between U.S. Highway 98 and Santa Rosa Sound. “I agreed.”

She said that on May 23, a crew from FPL “literally butchered several hundred square feet beside my driveway. They not only destroyed my trees but didn’t clean up well and left huge ruts from their tires and scattered plant debris.”

Mary Esther resident Toni Wurth said FPL recently "butchered" her property by clear-cutting a huge area of trees and other vegetation.

According to an FPL spokesman, the company followed industry-standard pruning guidelines and would repair the ruts and perform other cleanups. 

The recent work was the first time a power company cut trees and other vegetation on her property in the 30 years that she’s lived there, Wurth said.

She said an FPL official later told her that the excessive cutting had to be done because the trees and other vegetation that were reduced grow in swampy soil and will grow back fast, and that the company doesn’t want to have to perform more cutting every couple of months.

“He was a very nice gentleman, but I don’t think it was necessary to totally butcher it,” Wurth said.

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On the day FPL workers cut the trees and other vegetation, Wurth was inside her house on the south end of her lot, about 900 feet from the work site. She didn’t know the cutting was going on until it was too late.

“I couldn’t hear them from my house,” she said of the workers.

She said much of the area that was cut used to serve as a buffer against traffic noise on U.S. 98.

“Before, no one could see I had a driveway” from the highway because of the thick vegetation, Wurth said. “Now it’s very obvious that I have a driveway. I realize the lines need to be safe but there is pruning and there is clear-cutting.”

Tree branches, palm fronds and other vegetation are among the leading causes of power outages, FPL spokesman Kevin Courtney said in an email to the Daily News.

“To provide safe and reliable electric service, FPL proactively maintains more than 15,000 miles of power lines each year, trimming vegetation were necessary to keep lines clear and prevent outages,” Courtney said. “FPL and its qualified tree-trimming contractors follow directional pruning guidelines set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to protect the health of trees while helping them to grow away from power lines. ANSI A-300 is accepted as the industry standard for tree and plant pruning and is endorsed by the National Arbor Day Foundation and the International Society of Arboriculture.”

He said Wurth “is aware and satisfied with the follow up and action plan” by FPL to address her concerns about her property.

“If I hadn’t made a big stink about it they would have just left it,” Wurth said.