To maintain more than 3,000 miles of electrical wires throughout Chattanooga, tree removal crews for EPB regularly cut nearly 50,000 trees, limbs and branches every year.
But for all of its tree destruction, EPB officials say they want to promote more vegetation in Chattanooga -- as long as it isn't near transmission and electric lines in its 600-square-mile service territory.
EPB announced Friday it is joining with the city of Chattanooga and Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center to help fund the Free Tree ReLeaf program to give two free trees for any EPB household while the 1,000 tree saplings are still available this fall.
Starting Saturday morning, Reflection Riding will make 10 different native trees available for free and offer assistance to homeowners in what tree best suits their needs.
"Chattanooga's trees help us live up to our reputation as the Scenic City, but a healthy tree ecology provides so many additional benefits," Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said during an announcement of the new program at the 300-acre Reflection Riding campus in Lookout Valley. "Adding more trees through programs like Free Tree ReLeaf will make our city an even better place to live, improving our air quality and helping protect our waterways for future generations."
Kelly said Chattanooga's natural beauty is its brand, but that beauty in parts of the city was challenged in April 2020 when a series of tornadoes swept through the city and toppled hundreds of trees in East Brainerd. In response, the city launched a program to give free trees for city residents in 2020, and EPB is now doubling the city's $20,000 annual tree giveaway effort with is own $20,000 of finding for Reflection Riding to buy tree saplings and aid local homeowners in their planting.
"Our trees are part of our green infrastructure and do a tremendous amount to capture rainfall in their canopy and absorb stormwater in their roots, taking up and transforming nutrients and pollutants that would otherwise be flowing into our often outdated sewer system," Kelly said.
The 1,000 trees to be planted this fall through the Free Tree ReLeaf program should help ultimately capture 1.4 million gallons a year of water that would otherwise flow into stormwater sewers "and that is a very big deal," Kelly said.
EPB President David Wade said EPB is also eager to maintain or boost the tree canopy in Chattanooga that is not beneath or near its power lines. To help homeowners avoid planting trees that might ultimately cause many of the power line problems and outages from tree limbs falling on transmission lines, Wade said EPB's Energy Pros are available to help homeowners identify where best to plant their trees.
Properly located for shade, trees can also help reduce energy consumption during hot summer days, Wade said.
"Through our EPB Energy Pros, we're also providing information about where to plant and how to maintain healthy trees so customers don't have to worry about future power outages, costly tree maintenance or the potential to obstruct solar panels as trees grow," Wade said during Friday's launch of the new program.
Mark McKnight, president and CEO of Reflection Riding, said since the city launched its free tree giveaways in 2020, the number of planted trees has helped prevent more than 7,600 gallons of water from entering the city's stormwater sewer system, which is often overwhelmed during heavy rain events.
"We are losing a lot of our old trees in Chattanooga, both because they are reaching the end of their lives and also because of the big storms we've been seeing," McKnight said. "We really want to get new native trees started and out into our community and that is what this program is all about."
McNight said he hopes to offer another 1,000 free trees in Chattanooga next spring.
Where to get the free trees
Any EPB customer is eligible to pick up two free trees per household while the supply of 1,000 trees lasts at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center at 400 Garden Road in Lookout Valley. Reflection Riding is open for the tree giveaway from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, starting Oct. 29. Moe information about the program is available online at epb.com/free-tree-releaf/.