MOUNT VERNON — As a part of its tree maintenance program, American Electric Power has once again started trimming trees around power lines in the city.
“Tree contact with power lines is one of the most common causes of power outages,” said Vikki Michalski, spokeswoman for AEP. “We need to keep our rights of way clear on those trees so that we can ensure better reliability to our customers. The basic goal is to clear around the distribution line, and we attempt to get 10 feet on either side of the lines.”
Every four years, AEP sends out a forestry planner to evaluate tree hazards to power lines to determine which ones need to be cut down and which ones need to be trimmed. The cycle rotates within AEP coverage area.
“But there are times during the year, because of tree growth, that we will have areas that might be a small area and we would go in and clear those trees,” said Michalski.
AEP does notify residents when evaluations have been made. Door hangers are left on the door with AEP contact information should a resident have questions or concerns.
“And when we are doing full cycle trimming, we typically notify customers by voice message,” said Michalski.
Tree trimming is very important to AEP, she said, and measures are taken to prevent tree branches from being a problem so customers can remain in service. Tree clearance is something that is a part of the regular maintenance done across the service territory.
“It’s all based on having safe, reliable electricity to our customers,” she said. “As a company, we have an obligation to make sure that we do that and to manage the grow of vegetation around our facilities.”
During the summer storm season, more trees come in contact with power lines, said Michalski. Leaves and seasonal growth will add additional weight to tree limbs, which then break or come into contact with the lines. But winter can be worse with ice storms, she said, with freezing temperatures and ice buildup on tree branches, which then break and hit the power lines.
“One tree limb coming down on a line can affect service for several hundred customers, or thousands, depending on where the tree is located,” said Michalski.
In Mount Vernon, AEP anticipates wrapping up the tree trimming work within the next two weeks, and crews will be done in the area for the time being.
“We probably will not be back in the area, unless we have some problem spots, until about 2011, when our cycle trimming is expected,” said Michalski.
Some residents see the measures taken by AEP as necessary but too excessive for the health of the trees, as well as detracting from the charm of the community.
“Sometimes I’ve seen the electric company come chop trees off right at the top; if they do that, they should have to cut the whole tree down,” said Sharon Fair, Shade Tree and Beautification Commission member. “What that does is cut off their center stem, and if you cut that off, it just kills the tree.”
Fair said she has also seen where the cuts appear to take more off of one side of the tree than the other.
“And a really bad storm can cause it to break its branches off, because all the branches are on one side and that just destroys it,” said Fair. “Our trees are so important to our community. We spend a lot of time looking at our trees, trying to make sure they are healthy.”
Fair believes tree trimming should be a situation that is addressed “hand in hand” with AEP and the city.
“Sometimes the picture is unsightly; there are powerlines running through the tree, AEP comes and cuts down the trees that are around it, and then what do we have left to look at? We need to look at the perception that we want to give,” she said, adding that trees are significant to the image of the community and overall environment.
“With the Shade Tree and Beautification Commission, we are in the business of adding more trees and we don’t like the idea of taking them away,” said Fair. “I realize that they have to do what they have to do for the powerlines, but I just think that communication is needed. They can’t just go in there and do whatever they want without asking people and getting people’s input.”