PG&E contractors began cutting down the first of 13 trees that line a historic cemetery in Oroville, despite sign carrying protestors who have occupied the site for months.
A rally of 80 to 100 sympathizers was held in the morning, but police apparently told demonstrators that the removals were delayed.
"They were going to stand down for a day and so we said fine we'll be back tomorrow. It was kind of like an end run, we got you now," said Bill Bynum, spokesperson for Save Oroville Trees.
That didn't stop Alan Cartwright from trying to interfere with the crews. Police handcuffed him and escorted him off the work site.
"I was willing, I was ready to go. We've had other people arrested here and hauled off and they stopped the trees last time. This is ridiculous," said Cartwright.
PG&E had the blessings of the city council and held several community meetings to outline its concern about tree roots damaging a natural gas transmission line. 230 trees have already been removed by PG&E in the Oroville area, but protestors were drawing the line at these trees, some 127 years old, that line the cemetery on Feather River Boulevard.
"Unfortunately not everyone agrees with that, but safety is our paramount concern," said PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno.
Protestors say PG&E is most concerned about a repeat of the San Bruno gas explosion that leveled a neighborhood and killed 8 people and injured 66. But they say tree roots did not cause the blast.
PG&E was vilified, fined and sued after the disaster. It said recent research shows that trees growing over lines is a danger.
"Studies have shown that tree roots can wrap themselves around the pipes, they can corrode the protective coating and they can act as an impediment to responding to a gas emergency," said Moreno.
But protestors say PG&E should use a recent rate hike to reroute the line. They say the utility is taking the quickest and least expensive solution.
"There's no need for these trees to come down, there is no safety hazard," said Cartwright.
Protestors have not settled on what to do about protecting the remaing trees in front of the cemetery or whether they will force police to make arrests.
PG&E has offered to replant and re-landscape the cemetery, even though the trees are not technically on cemetery property.