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Posted on Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 6:30 p.m.

Ypsilanti Township resident Bill Riney staging protest in a tree

By Art Aisner

Bill Riney is heading back into the trees.

Nearly five months after he prevented the removal of large pine trees lining his backyard by camping out in them, the Ypsilanti Township man said he intends to climb them again after losing in court today.


Bill Riney of Ypsilanti Township camped out 30 feet up in his pine tree for two days over the summer.

File photo

“Those trees probably took 40 years to grow, and I can’t imagine my backyard without them,” Riney lamented after Washtenaw County Circuit Judge David Swartz granted International Transmission Company access to his property to have the trees removed.

“We’re just heartbroken about it, and they’re going to cut them down unless we stop it,” he said.

Riney spent about two days in June camped roughly 30 feet off the ground to prevent ITC employees from chopping down white pine trees in his Edison Avenue yard. Company officials said the trees interfere with power lines and are too mature to trim without killing them.

About a month after his one-man protest, the Novi-based company agreed to trim roughly 3 feet off two of the trees, and leave three other large ones intact, Riney said. But company officials were back in August and offered $10,200 for an easement on his property to allow them to cut the trees.

The easement was necessary to protect the lines overhanging the trees and provide access to trim, remove and even destroy trees if necessary, according to court documents.

The company served Riney with a court summons after he refused.

Riney said he didn't believe the agreement was temporary. Both he and his wife, Marcia, testified about the beauty of the trees and what they mean to their family and property value during an evidentiary hearing in downtown Ann Arbor this morning, officials said.

Two company officials, including a forester, testified about the potential danger the trees posed, said Ann Arbor-based attorney Karl Fink, who represented ITC.

Fink said he showed Swartz a short video illustrating devastating fires caused when transmission lines swayed into trees in Washington.

The witnesses also described how the company was using a line with smaller capacity to shift power to roughly 6,000 metered homes because the higher capacity lines above Riney’s home remained inactive.

Swartz granted the company immediate access to the 31 feet of Riney’s property for $10,200.

“The judge ruled that we showed the necessity for the easement that we were asking for,” Fink said. “The line is not energized now because it’s not safe and it was not safe to go in and take care of it with the access we had.”

Company officials could not be immediately reached for comment, and it was unclear when the trees will be cut.

Riney said he spent the afternoon building a small landing and preparing a tent to stay more comfortable than last time. He said tonight that he won't go into the trees until company employees come to cut it, and his family and a neighbor will keep an eye out for that.

He acknowledged the offer for access was monetarily fair, but insisted money couldn't account for the emotional ties to the timbers after living with them for 11 years.

He said he’s fully aware he could now be arrested by the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, which recommended the company seek a court order when deputies were asked to intervene in June.

“We signed an agreement to trim them and now they want a second bite of the apple. It just burns me up,” Riney said. “They can shoot me out of the trees like a bear, with a tranquilizer gun.”

Art Aisner is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.


Went South

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 7:22 a.m.

Laura Bien, Thank you for catching my spelling error. One point to make though, most of the stories on are incomplete of fact. They often give simple or incomplete information and leave the rest to the imagination of the reader. Check the facts for yourself and see if I am not right about Mr. Riney, still being required to pay taxes on this easement.

Laura Bien

Wed, Nov 11, 2009 : 12:29 a.m.

Went South: Your assertion that Mr. R. must continue to pay taxes on the land is not supported in the story. I don't say it's impossible--just that's it's not supported in the story. It's "paid," BTW. Not "payed."


Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 5:26 p.m.

I don't think putting these lines underground is feasible. this is not you typical backyard line, at leas t I don't think it is. These are the big towers that supply the energy to the grids.


Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 4:49 p.m.

I can certainly understand both sides, however; I don't think Mr. Riney is within his legal rights to restrict use of the easement already provided. But hey, why doesn't Mr. Riney offer to pay the costs to bury the power underground to save the trees?


Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 2:19 p.m.

This guy has a history of such "things". He is pretty much the joke of the neighborhood. His inflated self importance now may affect power delivery to many families. If the high voltage of that power line were to arc to the "offending" tree while he was in it, that would be poetic justice. Its a power line, duh! They should cut his electricity off to educate him on the most basic principles of power transmission. His falacious attempts to foster in the Islamic Hidaya Military Academy was insulting to citizens of the neighborhood. His main claim is that he has linked Obama to a hot dog in his attempts to bribe the gullible for votes. Put some Grey Poopon it


Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 10:11 a.m.

So if residents in the area are without power because of his trees, can they charge him? I mean, he knows his trees are a problem for the transmission lines, so let him be hard headed. Next ice storm, just make sure you send him a bill. And BTW, most scientists are jumping off the "Global Warming" band wagoon. It has been disproved MANY times. But it's a term that will live with us for a long time.

dading dont delete me bro

Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 9:48 a.m.

let it go bill, who's doing hot dogs this weekend? maybe they can cut'em down when passing my obama dogs out? it's an easement, i can't build a shed over the easement in my backyard.


Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 8:40 a.m.

He did get involved with some bikers, but it was not for a funeral processional, rather it was a memorial ride that was ending up at a cemetary. The bikers blocked the road but did not have a legal right to do so since there was no processional. Bill was right on that one, although he could have handled it with more tact. As for why he keeps doing what he does, he has run for office out in ypsi township and probably has aspirations of doing so again. I concur Top Cat.

Went South

Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 8:01 a.m.

Laura Bien, Even though he was payed for the easement, he still owns the land and is required to pay taxes on the land within this easement, as well as maintain the upkeep. The company really only payed him for the use of the easement and the appraised value of the trees they plan to remove. This is what happened in my case and I believe it is the same in Michigan. Yes they have rights to enter this easement at anytime and maintain those lines now, but Mr. Riney still owns the land.

Went South

Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 7:46 a.m.

Same thing happened to me this year, only it was a sewer easement. I was told if I refused the local utilities request, they would persue legal action and simply force condemnation of this easement of my property. After meeting with them and reviewing their contract, I noticed they wanted an all-inclusive utility easement. I requested the contract be changed to just a sanitary sewer easement only. They reluctantly agreed mainly because this delay was pushing their work farther behind. If I had not been dilligent and read the fine print, they could have used this easement for cable, water, new power lines,etc. The greatest lesson I learned in this process, is you can and should do your homework. You really do not own your land if the government wants it. My neighbors all along my street now have a very wide cavernous, treeless view to the neighbors on the other street behind our homes. I am fortunate though, I negotiated with them to save as many trees on my property as possible. But my neighbors weren't so lucky. You go Mr. Riney!

Laura Bien

Tue, Nov 10, 2009 : 7:16 a.m.

Terrin: I did read the story, thank you. He was paid $10K for the easement. According to the court's decision, he is no longer the owner of that strip of land containing the trees. I didn't see a mention of how he paid back the $10K to the power co.; therefore, he no longer owns those trees. Kindly think about the situation, if you would. To bury the wires would likely require the same destruction of the trees. Ever tried to dig out even a small tree? If you had you'd realize the difficulty involved, aside from the unlikeliness of burying a wire that apparently for most of its length is strung aboveground. Does that help?


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 9:41 p.m.

Laura Bien if you read the story, you'd understand that the company offered him money for an easement and he refused. It was the Court that awarded the company an involuntary easement for $10, 200. Accordingly, he didn't forfeit anything. The reality is the company could bury or redirect the wire. It, however, doesn't want to pay more money to do so. Instead, it wants to force a private land owner to give it access to the property.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 9:36 p.m.

I am with Bill on this one. First, this is America where you are supposed to own the land and have the say over what happens on it. The power companies cut trees with no consideration of how they will effect the look of the effected property or how the cutting effects the health of the trees. Further, they leave the scraps for the home owners to pick up. Second, the power company could bury these lines and should be forced to do so when cutting the trees will have a significant effect on the property and it's value. It isn't like they couldn't tell in the last forty years these trees were going to get bigger. Third, it is sad when a company can force you to give it an easement. Bill let us know how you need help, and I am sure many would volunteer.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 9:20 p.m.

Laura Bien...good one.

General Demetrios

Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 8:10 p.m.

Hang in there Bill, and thanks for doing what too many of us are too lazy to do. Taking care of the environment is more than writing pitiful comments like this one on the internet. Checked out the 2008 International Transmission Company annual report. It looks like their CEO knocked down $735,000 in base salary, plus $850,000 in bonus. Maybe he can dig around the cushions of his couch and find enough loose change to bury Bill's line (like they should have done years ago), rather than wacking his trees and passing the savings on to themselves. I believe the video is inaccurate too. Much higher voltage lines in the video than in Bill's back yard. Too bad Judges don't study more science before donning their robe. Fight on Bill! WE ARE WITH YOU.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 8:03 p.m.

The guy is basically a harmless crank but I'm starting to worry that his antics are becoming more and more confrontational. The giving away hotdogs things was strange enough during the campaign season, but has anyone noticed that he kept the signs, bumper stickers, and free hotdogs thing going well after the election of 08 ended? What is this guy campaigning for? And now he is sitting in a tree. If it gets any worse someone needs to step in before he becomes dangerous.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 7:57 p.m.

If he lost in Court, the cops ought to arrest him and jail him, if he tries his "direct action", tree-sitting stunt. He must be starved for attention.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 7:43 p.m.

Getting emotionally involved over a couple of trees is silly. Especially pine. The guy must be starving for attention like most liberals. Mr. Riney should go to a park or move to the country. That way he can hug all the trees he wants--that is, if his wife doesn't get jealous....

Richard Retyi

Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 7:42 p.m.

Isn't he the same guy who got punched in the face by a biker for disrupting a biker funeral?

Laura Bien

Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 7:22 p.m.

If he was paid for the easement, and if the trees are on said easement, has he not forfeited right to those trees? Yes, it's good to stand by what you believe in, but--ya gotta pick your battles. Ate one of his hotdogs last summer, didn't drink the koolaid.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 7:21 p.m.

This truly is a sad story and I understand both sides of it. No one wants to see more trees cut down, especially with the way Global Warming is on a fast rise. However, no one wants to see a fire caused because the trees are in the lines either. Just by the description of these huge trees, I can only imagine how beautiful they are. Too bad they can't be moved so they wont interfere with the lines.


Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 6:45 p.m.

He may do things a little different than a lot of people would, but he's a guy who sticks up for what he believes in through thick and thin, and how many people can you say that about? His efforts to save the neighborhood trees as well as his role in the community as the "Obama Hotdog Man" shows how committed he is to doing what's right in his eyes.

John Galt

Mon, Nov 9, 2009 : 6:44 p.m.

Gonna be a long, cold winter.....