Xcel improves approach to cutting trees on private property in Breckenridge | SkyHiNews.com

Xcel improves approach to cutting trees on private property in Breckenridge

Robert Allen
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – Xcel Energy won’t be removing the trees it continues to cut on private property, but the electric utility is giving local property owners more detailed information on their rights and responsibilities.

“We’re happy because people will have notice of what will happen,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “They’re at least telling people, ‘We’re going to leave all the junk in your yard.'”

Residents in the past few months have complained that it wasn’t made clear the utility would be leaving trees – mostly mountain pine beetle-infected lodgepoles – it cut to protect power lines.

They had received notice of tree cutting, but many weren’t prepared to clear the leftover debris. The high number of complaints from Peak 7 neighborhoods led to the county government’s involvement.

“(Xcel) had their permission, but (homeowners) didn’t know what they were giving permission to,” Noll said.

He said the homeowners through past experience had come to expect the utility to remove debris after trimming vegetation.

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However, the magnitude of the pine-beetle infestation has led to more widespread cutting, and the dead or dying trees would need to be removed eventually, anyway.

Xcel spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo said Thursday that door hangers are being used to communicate with property owners and verify that they’re aware of what’s happening.

“We did investigate all of the complaints,” she said. “And in any situation where contractors did not communicate as required, we did offer some additional work, but none involved removing trees from properties.”

The door hangers include a request that property owners sign and return, granting explicit permission for the tree removal and acknowledging their responsibilities.

“Should you decline to sign the card, a risk of causing a power outage and other serious damage or harm may occur, for which you could be responsible,” according to the door hangers.

Homeowners were also concerned trees the utility left on U.S. Forest Service land would cause a fire hazard. Aguayo said Xcel is working with the Forest Service to ensure those trees are cleared.

The tree cutting is part of a federal directive aimed at maintaining the power grid, according to previous reports. Anything with the potential to fall into the utility’s right-of-way and hit a line is being targeted.

A tree tripped a transmission line in Ohio to cause the Northeast Blackout of 2003, with outages for several days in New York City and parts of Canada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Tree cutting in Summit County is expected to continue, as about 150 miles of distribution lines and 80 miles of transmission lines have been slated for maintenance, according to a previous report.

Len Hoffius, an attorney from Blue River, said Thursday he’s still upset with the way Xcel has handled tree cutting in his neighborhood, and he believes the utility is legally obligated to remove the downed trees.

“What I get is that because of the extent of the number of trees down because of beetle kill – which they’ve never run into before – they just don’t want to incur the cost of the number of trees to be removed,” he said.

SDN reporter Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.

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