Updated: Pittsfield residents get township's help in dispute over tree removal beneath power line
The Pittsfield Township Board of Trustees passed a resolution tonight asking a utility company to delay removing tall trees that border a subdivision on the township’s north side.
The vote is largely a symbolic gesture in support of the four dozen residents from the Farmview Estates subdivision. They're challenging the ITC Holdings Corporation’s claim that the 60 or so arborvitaes pose a safety risk to their power lines.
The concerned homeowners who live along Beech Drive hope the township's action will bolster their push for a court injunction, which will likely be filed by Friday, said resident Cheryl Wasson.
Crews are expected to start removing trees next week, according to an ITC flyer recently circulated throughout the subdivision.
“We want all the help we can get because they’re a big company with a lot of resources and don’t have anything but time,” said Wasson, a resident since 1995.
She and her husband, Paul, have researched the legal issues and helped mobilize the neighborhood with a petition, organizational meetings and collection drives for attorney fees since ITC announced the tree removal in mid-November.
In December, the residents placed yellow caution tape that still remains around the trees, along with notes urging ITC employees not to destroy them.
The group is in the process of hiring its own independent forester to inspect the trees and assess ITC’s criteria for removal.
They asked the township for help, and officials were able to delay the scheduled cuts on at least two occasions while lawyers researched how much the municipality can get involved.
Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal said they offered to maintain the trees for the residents but ITC, which technically owns the property, refused due to company policy. She said township officials were ultimately advised not to assist the residents financially because the matter involved private property rights and only affected a small group of residents, not the community as a whole.
The resolution was passed unanimously tonight without much discussion.
Officials from the offices of U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, and State Rep. Kathy Angerer, D-Dundee, are also involved in the process.
Novi-based ITC recently settled a case with Ypsilanti Township resident Bill Riney, who spent two days in the tall pine trees along his property over the summer to protest ITC’s demands to cut them down. The company took him to court to establish easement rights and paid nearly $10,000 after a judge ruled in its favor.
The Pittsfield residents say they're aware ITC owns the easements, and they aren't opposed to trimming the trees to minimize safety concerns. They said they feel their situation is unique because their homes face a busy side street without any trees.
The residents hope a forester’s expert opinion about the growth rate and impact of just trimming the trees will help their case.
“We’re going to see parked cars and have all the noise from traffic right in our faces, it’s essentially going to be an alley,” Wasson said. “The consequences down the road for our property values, our privacy and peace of mind are just too severe.”
ITC spokesman Joe Kirik said trees growing in a wire zone - the area under and 10 feet outside the wire - will be targeted for removal, with priority emphasis given to incompatible, tall-growing species.
“The safety of homeowners and the reliability of the transmission system are top priorities,” Kirik said in a written statement. “In this instance, we are within our rights of ways as set forth in the relevant utility easement, which gives ITC the right to trim or cut down any trees which may interfere or grow to the point of interfering with both the operation and maintenance of the line.”