Tree cutting order concerns residents
Susan Thompson hopes to save three evergreen trees on her property, which ComEd says must come down to protect power lines. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 28, 2012 9:30AM
WILMETTE — Susan Thompson loves the blue spruce trees that border her Kenilworth Avenue property. There are five of them, all with shaggy boughs draping from high above leggy trunks. They are part of what makes her home and property beautiful, she said last week.
So she was horrified when ComEd officials told her about two months ago that three of the five trees posed a danger to electric wires threading through them, about 30 feet up, and that she would have to remove the trees or the utility would do it for her.
“These trees aren’t diseased, and the wires only come into contact with one of them,” she said, pointing out where one thick power cable has actually rubbed away that tree’s bark. “It’s actually doing more damage to the tree than the other way around.
“I love the trees and my kids love them. I hate to tell them that they’re going to be cut down.”
Thompson is convinced that other less onerous options exist; perhaps moving the pole, putting thick sleeves around the sections of affected wires, or moving the wires underground. She and Princeton Place neighbor Rolf Hofmann said several Wilmette neighborhoods, including some within sight of Thompson’s house, have no overhead lines. And Thompson questioned how much more expensive it would be to explore those ideas than to come in and pull down three mature trees.
Dozens of neighbors and other Wilmette residents have signed her petition asking ComEd to save the trees.
As far as neighbor Bill O’Neil, is concerned, “These mature trees are what make Wilmette Wilmette.”
Thompson said she did not initially get much satisfaction when she spoke to company officials, or to village officials: “I told (the forester) that I almost felt as if I was talking to ComEd employees when I was talking to the city.”
That isn’t the case, Village Manager Tim Frenzer said last week; nor does Wilmette have any power to influence ComEd’s eventual decisions, he added.
The village is happy to make its foresters available to residents with tree questions, and is willing to meet with residents and ComEd to help facilitate discussions, he said.
Patrick Diedrich, a senior project manager in ComEd’s vegetation management program, said he hoped to arrange a meeting with the Thompsons by the end of this week. ComEd spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney confirmed Sept. 21 that the company was working with both the couple and with Wilmette.
Yet, she and Frenzer both pointed out that Illinois law requires ComEd to use the least expensive option to fix problems, and prevents the company from making ratepayers pay for more expensive measures.
“There are instances where people have asked for lines to be put underground, and those people have paid for it,” Frenzer said, repeating comments he made to Thompson in a Sept. 12 email.
More expensive options can only be considered if there’s an entity to pay the cost other than ComEd,” Gaffney said.
She also noted the wires running through Thompson’s trees provide power to more than 230 customers
“ComEd understands the values of wooded communities and the pleasure trees bring to residents, but we have to balance the aesthetic value with equally important concerns, like safety,” she said, adding that about 20 percent of the ComEd’s electrical outages have historically been vegetation-related. About 1.3 million customers suffered power losses from 11,400 such incidents last year, most of them caused by uprooted trees or broken limbs, Gaffney said
Hofmann said that in almost 40 years on the block, he has never seen electrical outages caused by trees like Thompson’s. The trees do provide shelter for the occasional red-tailed hawk, he said.
“These trees are beautiful, and they were probably here long before the wires.”