UPDATE: SFPUC orders temporary halt to construction around centuries-old oak tree 

The general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission today requested a halt to construction around a centuries-old valley oak tree in San Mateo County while the agency considers alternatives to cutting it down.

In a letter to San Mateo County officials, SFPUC general Manager Ed Harrington said he has requested that an "avoidance area" be established around the tree that stands in a North Fair Oaks neighborhood, where the utilities agency is installing seismically reinforced pipeline to secure the safety of the Hetch Hetchy water delivery system.

Harrington, who said he is "personally evaluating" the situation, has directed the contractor to prepare two cost proposals: one that estimates the cost of boring a pipeline tunnel beneath the tree's roots, and one that considers cutting it down.

"I commit to you that the SFPUC will not direct the contractor to re-commence construction within the tree avoidance area before June 6, 2011," Harrington said in the letter.

Before that date, Harrington said, the SFPUC will complete a thorough review of arborists reports and meet with neighborhood residents, who on Monday began a campaign to save the tree they nicknamed "Granny."

"I do see this as a positive sign," North Fair Oaks resident Wayne Cruz said of the letter.

Cruz said the SFPUC and 15th Avenue residents will likely meet at the beginning of next week to discuss the tree's future.

The SFPUC has said that removing the tree is necessary to make way for the new pipeline, which is one of 81 projects that make up the $4.6 billion Hetch Hetchy system upgrade.

The delivery system supplies water to approximately 2.5 million Bay Area customers, according to the SFPUC.

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