AEP’s tree removals upsetting residents

Published 8:13 pm Thursday, March 31, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Residents are finally able to think about spring now that warmer weather has approached. Also thinking about spring and the storms that often accompany the season, Indiana Michigan Power, part of American Electric Power (AEP) has begun its spring clean up program to trim branches and remove trees that are too close to power lines.
Dave Mayne, corporate communications director for AEP, said, "we want our customers to receive the reliable electric service they deserve."
Many residents have voiced their concern that not all the trees selected by the power company should be altered.
Trees that are scheduled to have only the branches removed are marked with a red dot which is painted onto the tree. Trees selected for removal are marked in red paint with an "x".
Linda Neate who lives on Topinabee in Niles, pointed to a tall old pine tree with an x marked on its trunk in her front yard. "Some of the trees are marked for my home. Most I'm okay with. They can have at it. But some of them like this old pine, well…" she said.
Then Neate indicated a number of trees marked with paint in her neighbor's yard as well. "This lady has major "x's" on her trees. I guess I'm her advocate today," Neate said, since the neighbor wasn't home to express her opinions.
Local residents are also concerned about the effect fewer trees can have on their properties.
Ginny Tyler, who lives on Topinabee, said, "We need buffers of greenery to shield our houses and to shut out the noise of traffic on Chicago Road. This is an older neighborhood with older trees. I understand I and M's position, but I think a lot of trees can be spared. "
But according to Mayne, trimming trees is a very important service they offer their customers. "Tree trimming is an issue of public safety. Our ultimate responsibility is for the customer's safety," he said. "When storms blow through, trees can fall against the lines and the lines can hit the ground. Removing trees that are too close to power lines reduces the risk of those lines being on the ground," Mayne said.
But safety is not the only issue that AEP has to deal with.
Customer Service Representative, Randy Lawton, was out speaking with Niles residents in person on Wednesday, giving them a chance to express their concerns. With him was Joe Ray, assistant director of Public Works for the City of Niles, and a forestry planner named Kim who is employed by Asplundh, a company who specializes in tree trimming.
Kim was there to offer expert advice on why certain trees were marked for removal and others only needed trimming.
According to Dave Mayne, corporate communication director for American Electric Power which is the parent company of I and M, "The guide-lines help balance the health of the tree with the need for right-of-way clearance."
In regard to getting the work started, the forestry planner said, "We plan to begin work in the next month and a half. We have eight crews." And she added that they trim trees no matter how inclement the weather.
Kim said, "We post orange cards on homeowner's doors," to let them know when their trees are scheduled. "It is up to the homeowner to let Asplundh know ahead of time if there is a problem with the noise so something can be worked out," she said.
Kim also works with homeowners to make sure the changes to their property is aesthetic. "If there might be erosion from removing a tree, we leave the stump to protect the surrounding environment," she said.
I and M is not the only organization to provide electric service to the Niles community. Don Mell, electric superintendent for the City of Niles, said that the city also has electric lines throughout the city. But according to Mell, there is a difference between the city's lines and those of I and M/AEP.
According to Mell, a number of lines can branch off a utility pole. In addition to AEP lines and Niles city lines, there are also lines for phone and cable companies.
The concern of jurisdiction when a line or a pole is down doesn't seem to be a problem, though. "Anytime lines are down in the city, they call us. We're usually the first on the scene because we're closer." Mell said.
The issue of which crew trims which tree is a coordinated effort as well. Asplundh Corporation is contracted by AEP to do their work while Nelson Tree Service, a subsidiary of Asplundh, handles the calls for the city of Niles. According to Mayne, "Whoever owns the utility pole is ultimately responsible," and the associated contractor will take care of the problem.
Mell agrees. "We relace or repair the poles if they're ours," he said.
Both AEP and the City of Niles run year-round tree trimming programs.
Mell said, "Our crew here works year round. We start at one point in the spring and work all the way through the system. Next spring we start again."
Mayne said, We want to start before storm season and finish before spring is over.