BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutmanrecord-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — John Woodcox can be found tinkering in his backyard most days.
The Blair Township resident finds the white pine grove behind his Conetree Road house provides seclusion as he works in his shop or boils maple syrup for his family.
His pines were old and tall even when Woodcox built the house 35 years ago, but may not stand much longer.
This week International Transmission Company Michigan informed his wife, Verna, they will be rebuilding power poles behind their house and workers marked trees with blue paint and tape -- trees they contend may be in danger of falling on the new lines. Many trees face a chainsaw, and John and Verna Woodcox aren't happy.
"There will be maybe a dozen trees left," Woodcox said.
Joe Kirik, a spokesman for ITC Michigan, said project will replace wooden power poles installed in 1951 with "contemporary state-of-the-art" steel monopoles by early 2014.
"We're rebuilding to current construction standards. Part of it is a wider right-of-way," Kirik said. The current right-of-way width can vary over the course of a corridor, but is typically 90 feet. The new right-of-way would expand to 160 feet and claim numerous trees on the Woodcox lot.
The 26-mile, 138,000-volt Keystone-Hodenpyl transmission line begins in Garfield Township and stretches past the Woodcox property in Blair Township as it travels south through Wexford County to end just over the Manistee County line.
Kirik said the rebuild project's first phase starts at the south end of the line and would be completed in June to coincide with peak summer demand. He said the second phase starts in September and includes work in Grand Traverse County.
Blair Township Supervisor Patrick Pahl said ITC informed him of the project months ago, but the township has nothing to do with easements for property owners near the lines. Easement deals were settled with property owners years ago, he said.
Woodcox said his backyard shrank two years ago when the company cut vegetation closer to the lines, leaving behind a "big mess" of branches and logs, and he stands to lose even more. He said some of his neighbors, including his son next door, would have no trees at all.
"It's never been a problem on the power lines," he said. "It's not like it's new growth ... I feel it's my property (and) I'm beyond their easement."
But some people in Woodcox's neighborhood support ITC's easement cuts. They'd like to have trimming done on their properties and trees.
"Do they want some trees here?" said Diana Dwyer, who lives along Nimrod Road, just beyond the power line right-of-way.
She plans to remove her white pines because they can lean dangerously close to her trailer during ice storms.
"I certainly don't have any objections," Dwyer said.
Kirik said the company is working within the rights-of-way set by utility easements, but acknowledges vegetation removal can be a sensitive issue for property owners. He said property owners can call 1-877-482-4829 with questions.
"We do our best to work with customers and their concerns," he said.