Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 18, 2013

TCL&P ends contract over safety concerns

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Light & Power terminated its $440,000 contract with a company hired to clear limbs from power lines after utility officials determined Trees Inc. failed to adequately protect its employees.

A worker for Houston-based Trees Inc. died Aug. 7 after he came in contact with a high voltage line. Tim Arends, Light & Power’s executive director, said its investigation showed the worker used tree spikes to climb into the tree and did not maintain a required safe distance of 28 inches from the power line.

Arends suspended the company Aug. 16 and requested documentation that the two workers assigned to Traverse City were properly trained.

“They sent me copies of pages out of a training manual; it was nothing,” Arends said. “Our contract calls for them to have trained, competent people and I’m not sure that happened.”

Trees Inc. has a three-year contract with the city-owned utility to trim tree branches that are in danger of contacting overhead power lines. Zachery Eldon Adams, 23, of Sears in Osceola County, was trimming branches from a pine tree in a yard off East Orchard Drive when he was fatally shocked by a 13,800-volt line.

Arends requested the company conduct an internal investigation, but company officials have not provided results to Light & Power. An investigative report by the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration won’t be done until November.

Carl Nowland, state superintendent for Trees Inc., referred all questions to his corporate office; messages seeking comment were not returned.

Peter Doren, Light & Power’s attorney, said the safety issue and death were utility officials’ main concern, but the discovery that workers used tree spikes to climb trees also warranted contract cancellation. A review of other trimming sites found scarring on several trees from spikes.

The utility bans tree spikes because Traverse City is a tree city, Arends said. It’s written in bold print in the contract and the two workers were verbally instructed at the start of the contract not to use spikes. No permission was ever requested, nor granted.

“They violated the contract and did not ensure the safety of their employees,” Arends said. “I feel I had no choice but to terminate the agreement.”

Arends asked the utility board to sign a contract with the second-lowest bidder, Penn Line Services. The company had the contract prior to Trees, Inc., which underbid it by $1,800.

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