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Posted on Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 4:34 p.m.

Judge's order allows utility company to cut trees in Pittsfield Township, but legal battle wages on

By Art Aisner

A Washtenaw County judge has dismissed a large portion of the lawsuit brought by Pittsfield Township residents who are trying to prevent a power company from chopping down large trees lining their properties.

Circuit Judge Melinda Morris reinforced ITC Holdings Corp.’s property rights over the easement where dozens of arborvitaes have grown for decades behind homes on Beech Drive.

The order, issued last week, grants the company permission to strip any trees within the easement, but Morris set a Sept. 24 trial date to hear arguments about whether they should.

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ITC crews showed up in the neighborhood to cut trees in February.

The company says it is following a federal mandate to protect the lines from vegetation, and the trees pose a potential hazard.

But a handful of neighbors believe the trees are vital to their property values and quality of life. They also intend to prove the trees can be trimmed and maintained to meet federal standards.

The residents filed suit in February after they, despite the help of township officials, couldn't convince the company to take a different approach.

Crews began removing trees that month until some residents climbed in the arborvitaes and urged Morris for a restraining order. Her moratorium on cutting remains in place through the trial.

Both sides agreed to postpone their original May trial date and met with a court-appointed mediator in June. A court order bars attorneys from discussing the mediation; however, court filings indicate no significant agreements were reached, other than the decision for a bench trial.

Walter Hamilton, an attorney for the residents, declined to comment to but called ITC’s position to remove all the trees “indefensible” in court records.

“ITC has adopted an inflexible policy that all vegetation in the easement area must be removed without respect to whether it threatens to interfere with their operations,” he wrote.

ITC attorneys claim it is within the company’s right to cut, per the agreement it reached with DTE upon purchasing the easement in 2000.

“The court’s order granting ITC partial summary disposition validates ITC’s easement rights and will help ensure that we can continue to maintain the safety and reliability of the transmission system,” company spokesman Robert J. Darmanin said in a written statement.

While the case is pending, township officials adopted changes to their tree removal ordinance to help residents with similar problems in the future. Last week, the township board unanimously approved measures to protect residents from injury and property damage caused or threatened by the improper or incomplete removal of trees in utility rights-of-ways.

The changes specifically call for any utility crew to grind all tree stumps to no less than 6 inches below the ground level and re-sod the area surrounding the removed tree to remain consistent with the grounds.

Violations are considered misdemeanor offenses and could be subject to legal fees and other costs incurred by the township.

Art Aisner is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 723-623-2530.



Mon, Sep 6, 2010 : 9:04 a.m.

Hi to all, i'm a resident of this area, and would like to tell the rest of the story behind this, itc wanted and got a new easement of 88 feet from the center of the tower out in a radius,this covers just about all the lot our houses sit on. these trees, arbor vitae mostly, have been mature and fully grown for quite a while now and have never posed a problem in the past several decades theyve been there. and in fact were mandated by the township, includng thier replacemnet should one or more be lost. what this means to us 33 homeowners is, itc now has the right to do what they want in our yards. i believe the tree isssue was a red herring all along. this legal action also is a precedent, which will affect EVERYONE along this multi state tower run. we were satisfied with the old easement, obviously, we bought along it, because these trees actualy made for a pleasent and private back yard. all this unneccessary clear cutting will further degrade properties, and thier value, along a very long stretch, causing all of us affected to make some very tough choices about staying in these now degraded and near valueless houses. the stump grinding ordinance is nice, at least itc wont force us to grind em out ourselves,but they do symbolize our missing rights,and to me it's another case of corporations doing what they want to people,and the enviroment,but you obviously know how that goes,so not getting on that rant. it would be cool if everyone came by the district court house downtown the 24th at 8 am and stood with us on this issue. we sorely need to take this entire Country back from the corporations, and let em know what Americans are all about. thank you.


Tue, Aug 24, 2010 : 9:46 a.m.

@strongfire and @basic bob Your facts are wrong ALL federal mandates are for 220kv lines and above as they are interstate transmission lines ITC didn't provide any mandates in court THERE AREN'T ANY. The lines in the Edison corridor are 120kv redundant lines meaning they have backup line incase a line fails. and fall under no federal jurisdiction. Also the tree that triggered the events that caused the blackout (As the government found other events caused by ITC actually caused the blackout ie. improper training ignoring overload alarms switching off servers that reroute power unmanned stations). In any case the tree involved was called a "tree of heaven" that can grow to 80 feet and can only grow in devistated clear cut areas like where they area under power lines. It was 6' taller than the line the line was 220kv. Funny if they would of left native vegitation the blackout wouldn't of happen. Are you comparing a 20' arborvitae to a 80' tree of heaven? your reading propaganda from ITC Read the independant government report provided to the president of the United States its posted on As for SAG residential line are 40' and run perpendicular under lines arborvitae's are 20' and at full mature height. is it O.K. for these lines to lay on-top of the power lines and cable running to your house?


Sat, Aug 21, 2010 : 6:28 p.m.

@Chris The trees may be 20 feet below the wire now, but when there is a lot of electricity flowing through the lines they become hot and sag closer to the ground and the electricity can arc to the trees causing problems in the system. This is what triggered the Blackout of 2003. With ITC responsible for over 15,000 miles of transmission lines, they are not going to come back every couple of years to trim these trees that are illegally in the easement. If you plant or build anything in the easement, the law is clear that the holder of the easement can remove the plants or structures and not have to restore what they have removed.

Basic Bob

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 7:15 p.m.

ITC will continue to argue this case based on reliability and safety. Current industry-wide maintenance standards for 120kV power lines require NO vegetation besides grass underneath the lines. These new standards were adopted after the Northeast Blackout of 2003 when several transmission lines in northeast Ohio overheated and sagged into trees. The North American Electric Reliability Council concluded that First Energy did not adequately manage tree clearance in its transmission rights of way.

Silly Sally

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 11:13 a.m.

@TheAnnouncerMan007. Actually, you, if a homeowner, do own it. The utility has an easement to use the land to install and maintain its power lines and to be able to walk or drive on it without interference from the home owner. The home owner still owns it. The "right" of the utility to remove all vegetation from their easement on the homeowner's property is not as clear. Hence, the grounds for the lawsuit. If it were as you stated, any judge, except perhaps an Obama appointee, would have thrown it out.

Jay Allen

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 10:36 a.m.

@silly sally: Maybe I am reading this hole thing wrong. If I am, my mistake. Sorry....... If a home owner's tree infringes on my property, I have the right to remove the part that is on my property. I do not have the right to touch any part of the tree NOT on my property. An easement is the same way. If the tree(s) in question is/are on a homeowner's property and the growth of the tree infringes on the easement, the owner of the easement has a right to trim it away. They do not have a right to remove the tree entirely. The article stated: "grants the company permission to strip any trees within the easement". If the trees are in the easement, C'est La Vie. While I do agree if they are not bothering anything, why? However, I have no right to tell them not to do it. I don't own it.

Silly Sally

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 10:24 a.m.

It is an easement, not utility ownership. They have the right to have power poles and wires hp very high. This shouldn't mean that residents cannot grow vegetation on their land that stays many feet away from the power lines. If they had planted maple trees that now were up in the power lines, the utility would be correct in topping the trees, not removing them. If they had to return every 5 or 10 years, fine. But an easement should not give them the right to clear cut to the ground, even if it will save the utility money. It is an easement for the utility, not ownership

Jay Allen

Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 10:10 a.m.

This is why I disagree with "Home Owner's Associations" (HOA). Now, is this a HOA problem? No. But please follow along. A person(s) purchase a home. You wish to decorate, remodel, landscape accordingly. This goes w/o saying. It is YOURS. How can anyone tell you what to do with YOUR property? I think we ALL agree on that. Thus, I cannot tell you what to do and YOU cannot tell me what to do. When you buy a home, you need to have a good title company and a good Realtor. They need to ADDRESS to you/with you if there are any easements, common areas, other right of ways, or ANY other items on or near your property. It is then up to you to decide buying the home whether or not you can abide by the rules set in the title work which was established LONG before you decided to purchase the home. Thus, that easement, because of the power lines, existed a long time ago. Someone else owns the easement. Not you. Remember, you don't want folks telling you what to do. That is a two way street. You see this a ton. Folks in London Twp complaining about Milan Dragway yet NONE of the residents complaining have lived there more than 10 years. Milan Dragway was established in the early 1960's BEFORE many of the houses were built. But yet people complain about the noise. The people in Stonebridge complaining about AA Airport expansion. Sorry. You KNEW there was an airport nearby. Thinking that ANY business would sit dormant and not try to expand (ie get better) is naive. Yet folks complain about airport expansion. Just do your homework on the front side and do not complain after the fact.


Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 8:03 a.m.

I live in this neighborhood and completely agree with the residents and their lawsuit to prevent ITC from removing the trees. I also commend Pittsfield Township Officials because they have done a great job of trying to mediate the situation but ITC is just really being unreasonable. While it may be true that ITC has a legal right and obligation to maintain the easement purchased from DTE to prevent interference with overhead electric wires. The arborvitae are clearly at least 20 feet below the power lines at a minimum. ITC has taken a hard line position against the property owners by refusing to work with them to consider pruning only those trees that may be problematic. ITC would rather remove the trees entirely to save money which is the real reason ITC wants to remove the trees. ITC does not want to budget and provide for future tree pruning and maintenance expenses in the electric easement. The vegetation and the trees in question are not causing a hazard or interfering with the transmission lines. ITC is not acting like a good community partner. What is unfortunate and ironic is that the money spent on lawyers could have easily been spent on a capital needs budget for pruning and maintaining the trees along this particular easement for the next 10-20 years. Instead ITC has chosen to use litigation rather than taking a common sense approach and working with residents to remove or trim problem vegetation. ITC is being completely unreasonable and I hope the property owners win their case even though this is unlikely. In the mean time maybe the Township and Washtenaw County could pass an ordinance that requires ITC and other Electric utility providers to place future transmission and power lines underground avoiding both an eyesore and future pruning expenses.


Fri, Aug 20, 2010 : 6:57 a.m.

Stray branches coming in contact with a wire is only one of many problems this vegetation in the right-of-way can cause. The growth can also damage the wires if it is ignited, and can prevent crews from accessing the wires should one happen to fall. ITC is right to defend its statutory right to maintain the right-of-way in whatever way it sees fit. The homeowners knew they were planting on land specifically designated as the utility's right-of-way when they did it. The owners, not ITC, should bear the cost of restoring the land once the growth has been cleared. Pittsfield Township never should have gotten involved in the matter. The law on this is clear; keep your landscaping off the right-of-way.


Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 8:59 p.m.

Seems to me that Pittsfield is being proactive and making certain ITC doesn't simply "cut and run." I have no doubt that ITC would simply clear cut and leave stumps sticking a foot or so out of the ground, as unsightly as possible since it will lower their costs. ITC doesn't care about county residents. It is all about money. Kudos to Pittsfield for doing what they can in what apepars to be a tough situation

Basic Bob

Thu, Aug 19, 2010 : 7:40 p.m.

The no-stump ordinance is not going to save the trees. It will increase the cost of clear cutting less than the wasteful lawsuits. Not to mention, ITC will pass all costs on as service charges to DTE and Consumers. Who will pass all costs on as service charges to utility customers.