Pittsfield Township homeowners contest tree removal beneath power line
Taking a cue from the artist Christo, some Pittsfield Township residents have wrapped a row of trees in yellow caution tape, hoping to save them from a chainsaw.
Signs stapled to wooden guides for the caution tape admonish the power line’s owner, ITC Holdings, not to cut them down.
Ronald Ahrens for AnnArbor.com
But putting a barrier around the sentinel row of arborvitaes that give year-round privacy to the residents’ yards may ultimately prove futile in the face of ITC’s mandate to avoid power outages.
ITC notified residents of the impending tree removal Nov. 16, said Cheryl Wasson, who has lived in her home on the east side of Beech Drive for 15 years. A company employee went door-to-door hanging tags with the announcement. Trees are usually cut down within a few weeks after notices are delivered.
The arborvitaes, which have closely compressed scale-like leaves and make a dense, tall hedge, were planted with the mid-1980s creation of the Farmview Estates subdivision. Lots on the east side of Beech Drive back up beneath the power line and are bounded by neighboring Helen Avenue, which has houses only on its own east side. This is a critical stretch of the power line, with two support towers.
Some ornamental conifers such as blue spruce, along with deciduous shade trees, will also be removed from within the easement that extends 58 feet from the 120-kilovolt line.
As it presses ahead, ITC cites the big picture.
“We are sensitive to the feelings of property owners who do not want to see trees removed,” wrote ITC spokeswoman Louise Beller in a statement. “However, the safety of homeowners and the reliability of the transmission system are our top priorities. Power outages are inconvenient, costly and potentially dangerous. In this instance, we are within our rights of way as set forth in the relevant utility easement.”
The possibility of arcing current that would knock the power lines out of action is the primary concern, even when trees don’t reach directly into the lines themselves, according to a company brochure that is reproduced online. The 15-foot-tall arborvitaes reach about halfway up to the nearest lines.
Since the monumental power outage of August 2003 affected the eastern part of the country, federal regulators have implemented a zero-outage requirement. Fines of $1 million per day can be levied against the transmission service in event of noncompliance.
Ronald Ahrens for AnnArbor.com
“We’re not a bunch of tree-huggers,” Gedert said. “The last thing I want is to see somebody get electrocuted in my back yard.”
Gedert owns a rental house on the east side of Beech and lives in another house on the west side of the street.
“If you want to take a foot or two off the top, knock yourselves out,” he said.
Wasson agreed, “We’re not frivolous. But we can’t imagine being here without these trees. They’re our little bit of comfort.”
She fears being left with a row of ugly stumps. ITC does not remove stumps after felling trees.
Pittsfield Township officials have been contacted about the issue.
“We are making all efforts to resolve this to the satisfaction of our residents,” Supervisor Mandy Grewal said.