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Hernando County's nine canopy roads

Canopy roads need better protection

Canopy roads, as you probably know, are the stretches of rural highway shaded with arching tree limbs, usually loaded down with Spanish moss and resurrection ferns.

Ordinance.

That means law, of course.

Put them together — canopy road ordinance — and you get the reassuring idea that the scenic lanes that help define the county's character are firmly protected by its government.

At the same time, if you're smart, you probably suspect that's all too good to be true. And it is.

This month, a Progress Energy crew cut down more than 35 trees — including several large oaks — along a protected stretch of Griffin Road southeast of Brooksville.

Imagine a vaulted ceiling in an old church with one side peeled away. Or, as Griffin resident Leslie Phillips said: "It looks like a tornado blew down our street.''

This clearing can actually be traced back to two tropical storms that hit Hernando in 2004.

Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative has long served several Hernando neighborhoods that, according to the two companies' boundary agreement, were in Progress Energy's territory.

The confusion and potential danger of this arrangement became obvious after the 2004 storms, when both companies decided to "true up the boundaries,'' said David Lambert, a Withlacoochee spokesman.

That required Progress Energy to run lines down Griffin Road and also Powell Road, a nonprotected street where the company has also cleared away a swath of trees.

The company did this with approval of the county and its canopy road ordinance, said Public Works Director Charles Mixson.

This 20-year-old law identifies nine canopy roads, including the northern 1.6 miles of Griffin and, most famously, Fort Dade Avenue west of Cobb Road.

It requires County Commission approval for clearing along these roads, except when "required for the establishment or continuation of the service provided by & utilities.''

Of course we need electricity. Losing it for a couple of weeks after those 2004 storms made me realize it is just slightly less essential to life and family happiness than is oxygen.

And maybe there is no choice but to cut down the trees on Griffin.

One of Phillips' suggestions — burying utility lines along canopy roads — would be far more expensive than clearing and, because of root damage, probably just as destructive, said Florida Progress spokesman C.J. Drake.

But wouldn't it be better if the law mandated that this be hashed out in public, by our elected commissioners? Couldn't they, and shouldn't they, weigh the value of "trueing up boundaries'' against the preservation of a canopy road, and explore whether they have the authority to intervene?

I think so, because canopy roads are important, and the commission would not have passed the law in the first place unless a lot of other people felt the same way.

These are oases of beauty — a few stretches that give a slight lift to everyone who drives on them, nice counterpoints to many other roads that, well, aren't quite so attractive.

Which is what we now have on Griffin, in the form of a 300-yard-long line of stumps.

"It seems pretty drastic, doesn't it, for three utility poles?'' Phillips asked.

Yep.

The county designates all or part of the following as canopy roads:

• Fort Dade Avenue

• Old Trilby Road

• Snow Memorial Highway

• County Road 550

• Jasmine Drive

• Griffin Road

• Neff Lake Road

• Baseball Pond Road

• Mountain Lake Road

Canopy roads need better protection 03/26/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2008 12:48pm]

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