Letter-to-the-Editor: In Support of Utilities Undergrounding
May 30, 2024
The silhouette of palm trees intersected by power lines | Image credit: Kristi Blokhin, Shutterstock

The following is a letter-to-the-editor in response to an article by Anna Sharpe that ran on the front-page of the Charleston Post and Courier on May 29, 2024. This letter was written by Lindsay Marshall, Scenic America board of directors member. You can read the original article referenced here.

I read with interest the May 29, 2024, front-page article “On the Chopping Block” regarding the potential loss of 500 palmetto trees marked to be cut down to protect overhead power lines on Sullivan’s Island. Karen Byko’s pleas to underground the wires instead are spot-on. Undergrounding protects our tree canopies and stops further deforestation for the supply of distribution poles. Without overhead infrastructure, roadside trees such as mature live oaks and palmetto palms would not have to be pruned so aggressively nor removed entirely by utility companies. Roadside trees not only decrease flood risk and cool asphalt, but absorb CO2 and particulates related to air pollution. And, if not cut, might we enhance urban beautification, scenic beauty, and historic charm? Yes.

With increasing intensity and frequency of storms resulting in loss of power with downed power lines, the impact on vulnerable people and local economies is tremendous. It is a public health and safety issue when emergency vehicles cannot reach people, computer power and phone usage is lost, and businesses cannot operate due to long-term power loss. Several past storm events with downed overhead power lines have resulted in billions of dollars in lost economic output in coastal communities.

Florida has now undergrounded 45% of their distribution system. Hilton Head, SC, used the horizontal directional drilling method (HDD) to convert overhead infrastructure to underground. That project was completed in 2021 and removed about 3,500 utility poles and undergrounded 115 miles of distribution lines. Let’s encourage Mount Pleasant, Charleston County, and all of our local governments and utility companies to keep up with the times. Overhead lines are the ‘horse and buggy’ of electrical distribution. Undergrounding will increase reliability, enhance scenic beauty, add stability to our economy, and support the health and well-being of our citizens. As Karen Byko said, “the question isn’t how can we afford to bury our power lines, it’s how can we afford not to.”

Lindsay Marshall
Member, Scenic America Board of Directors
Charleston Resident