Dallas City Hall Battles Oncor Over How the City Can Spruce Up its Trails

The swaths of land that run underneath Oncor's electric transmission lines are in many ways ideal spots for jogging trails. They stretch for miles, are largely free of obstructions and are controlled by a single entity, eliminating the types of property issues that would make construction anywhere else a logistical nightmare. The electric utility has been amenable to the idea as well, allowing Dallas to develop a trail system that will, eventually, connect virtually the entire city.

That's all fantastic. It's only natural, though, that neighbors and trail users would want to spruce things up a bit. Some shade would be nice to turn the summer broil to merely a high-heat bake, as would a bit of vegetation to break the monotony of the arrow-straight stretches of lightly browned grass. It would seem like a simple thing to line the trail with shrubs or crepe myrtles, but it never is. Oncor has strict rules for what can go beneath the transmission lines and, according to park director Paul Dyer and several City Council members, those rules change a lot.

"It's been so bad," Dyer said, clearly exasperated. "We've managed to put amenities in, and they take them out."

At a meeting at City Hall Monday morning, Dyer said the park department has been trying for years to get clear guidelines for what is allowed along the trails, how high it can be and where it can be located, but that's never happened. What's OK with one Oncor representative one day is suddenly a no-no when that person is replaced.

Oncor spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar, who was not at the meeting, said over the phone that creating a set of uniform guidelines would be difficult, since the required clearance varies depending on the transmission line and its voltage. Also, national standards imposed by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. have grown increasingly strict over the years, meaning that what was fine when one project being built several years ago might not be OK now.

But the lack of consistency is maddening to Dyer, and his frustration was shared by council members Angela Hunt and Sandy Greyson, who convinced the committee to send Oncor a strongly worded letter.

"The idea that they won't work with us to come up with set of standardized requirements, and that we've been working on this for eight years, it's unacceptable," Hunt said.

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