BY MATT TROUTMAN
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — For 17 years, Jon Grist could rely on the shade provided by pine trees in his backyard.
It’s not so shady anymore, not since tree-trimming crews contracted by Michigan Electric Transmission Company this week began to cut branches and drop trees in an 80-foot swath from its power lines, which run behind Grist’s Blair Township property.
The company is rebuilding its 138,000-volt Keystone-Hodenpyl transmission line and contends a wider right-of-way is necessary to prevent power outages from toppled trees and branches.
But Grist said the company hasn’t done enough to work with property owners who stand to lose most of their trees.
“There goes our shade,” he said Thursday as a mechanical tree trimmer sawed branches from his trees.
METC spokesman Joe Kirik said tree-trimming crews are working northeast through Blair Township and have 4 miles left to the Keystone substation in Garfield Township. All “incompatible” species like Grist’s scotch pines face the chainsaws, while shorter “compatible” trees will be spared. At the same time, construction crews will add bases for the new steel monopoles to be installed this fall.
“We do our best to address landowners’ concerns,” Kirik said. “We encourage them to ask questions and discuss their questions with us.”
Grist peered at a tangle of logs and branches that used to be a grove of pine trees on the south side of his property. He said no one from METC told him whether the “devastation” will be his to clean up.
“Nobody ever asked to work with us,” he said. “They just told us what they’re going to do.”
Kirik said smaller branches will be mowed or chipped and logs will be cut to length and stacked on the landowners’ properties. He said the company may also remove the debris if so requested.
“The wood is the property of the landowner so it’s usually left there,” he said. “Most want to keep it. We talk with them on an individual basis.”
Property owners may call METC at 1-877-482-4829 with questions or concerns, but some have decided to take their case to court.
Pam Schark, of Blair Township, and Lynn Tilson, of Grant Township, were granted an injunction in 13th Circuit Court to stop the company from cutting trees beyond 50 feet from the power lines. The company argues the 50-foot area is not an easement but actually describes where the lines will be placed.
A trial is scheduled for December. Kirik said the company has enough existing clearance on the two properties to complete the project.
Grist also believes his easement is 50 feet and plans to count how many of his trees were cut beyond that mark.
“We will be civil-suing them for the trees beyond 50 feet,” he said.