Alex Brown, manager of vegetation management at PECO (left) shakes the hand of Friends of Carpenter Woods’ David Dannenberg after the meeting on Aug. 16. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Approximately 30 members of The Friends of Carpenter Woods met with PECO representatives on Aug. 16 to discuss the damage that was caused by chemical herbicides applied by a PECO contractor to over 200 small trees – almost all native – in Carpenter Woods in the Mt. Airy section of Wissahickon Valley Park last May.

Alex Brown, manager of vegetation management at PECO, and Tonia Graham, senior vegetation management program manager, met with residents and members of The Friends of Carpenter Woods to survey the damage, answer questions and discuss a replanting plan.

Earlier this year, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation and Friends of Carpenter Woods, as well as the Philadelphia Water Department worked hard to clear non-native trees and plants and replace them with native ones.

One of the trees planted by the Friends that was killed by PECO herbicide treatments (Photo by Linda Goschke)

Anne Bekker, the current coordinator for Philadelphia for Old-Growth Forest Network, told the Local that Carpenter Woods features some of the oldest trees in the Wissahickon. In 2005, it was designated an important bird area by the National Audubon Society.

Linda Goschke, president of The Friends of Carpenter Woods, asked PECO to make the following reparations in an email.

She asked that they replace “an equal number of saplings along the edges of the woods” and that all tree replacements “be of the same or similar NATIVE species to those killed.”

And in areas where low-growing or ground-cover plants were killed, she asked PECO to replace plants.

The Friends of Carpenter Woods also requested that tree replacements be planted along the edge of Carpenter Woods where the damage occurred.

She asked that in the future, PECO ask permission (except in an emergency) before trimming any tree growth, especially since Philadelphia Parks and Recreations has arborists and sawyers who already perform this task.

The Friends group also asked that in the future PECO and its contractors not use herbicides on public park lands – especially NOT near public access paths and public use areas.

Several attendees voiced concerns about chemicals going into the city’s water supply. Goschke said many of the new trees were planted to help manage and protect the Wissahickon watershed.

One attendee asked why she was never notified that PECO would be spraying because she is on PECO’s hypersensitivity list.  Both Brown and Graham apologized and formally admitted that using herbicide as a form of tree maintenance versus pruning or other mechanical means to protect their equipment in this case was a bad decision.

Brown explained that PECO does routine vegetation and tree maintenance to protect its powerline on a five-year cycle. To prevent this from happening again in the future, he said PECO would coordinate future vegetation and tree maintenance with Fairmount Park.

A private meeting was held at Work Mt. Airy after the public meeting on Thursday.

PECO spokesperson Kristina Pappas said they are working closely with the community and Fairmount Park to come up with a plan that will not only keep their equipment safe but preserve the park. She said they are currently discussing “an alternative planting in that same location or possibly even planting in another area of the park.”

“We are really working with the park and the community to come up with a new plan that will satisfy everyone here and keep our equipment safe, but also give the vegetation the look and feel the community wants,” Pappas said.

David Dannenberg, member of Friends of Carpenter Woods said in an email he was “unimpressed overall with PECO’s protocol for trees around power lines, but added that “the individuals who came out, their willingness to take institutional responsibility for the tragedy, and their thoughtful and thorough response to our concerns, was about all anyone could ask for.”

Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at 215-248-8804 or