Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Friday

May 24, 2013

Utility cuts trees beyond easements, property owners say

TRAVERSE CITY — Lynn Tilson is trying to save 374 of her red pines from the chainsaw.

Michigan Electric Transmission Company marked the trees for removal, beyond the 50-foot easement Tilson believes the utility has on either side of its power lines. She worries the tree removal will limit where she can build a retirement home on her 11-acre Grant Township property.

"I purchased the property primarily because of the trees," Tilson said. "I had no idea I'd be losing trees beyond the 50 feet."

METC is rebuilding its 138,000-volt Keystone-Hodenpyl transmission line and replacing old wooden power poles installed in the 1950s with new steel monopoles. The utility informed property owners in Grand Traverse, Manistee and Wexford counties it plans to remove trees located up to 80 feet on either side of the center line, making the right-of-way 160 feet.

"Those are our current construction standards to ensure safety and reliability of the line," said Joe Kirik, spokesman for ITC Holdings Corp., METC's parent company.

But many property owners along the 26-mile line are concerned this wider right-of-way literally cuts beyond their easement agreements and may lead to reduced property values. Their trees marked with blue paint and tape will be cut before the rebuild project is completed by early 2014.

"Everybody is so frustrated around here they’re just about ready to blow their stack," said Verna Woodcox, a Blair Township resident. Her husband John told the Record-Eagle in April the tree removal would reduce their pine grove to roughly a dozen trees.

Tilson is the first property owner to take the utility to court. Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power last week approved her request for a preliminary injunction that temporarily limits the company's tree removal plans to a 100 feet right-of-way.

Kirik said the company will comply with the order pending a final decision from the court, but didn't believe it would have a wider impact on the project.

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