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ComEd has a plan before it trims trees by power lines

Utility starts cutting in Joliet neighborhood in August

Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 10:36 p.m. CST
Caption
(Image courtesy of ComEd)
ComEd says it trims trees near power lines based on the tree's proximity to the line and its species. Faster-growing trees are pruned more substantially than slower-growing ones, according to Emily Kramer, manager of Distribution Vegetation Management for ComEd. Despite the odd shapes that sometimes result, the technique ensures that the tree stays healthy by retaining as much of its original form as possible.

JOLIET – When it comes to trimming trees, ComEd appears to be taking a kinder, gentler approach.

ComEd plans to perform “mid-cycle vegetation management activities” on McKinley Avenue and Zurich Road on Joliet’s southeast side during August, September and October.

Years ago, when the utility’s tree trimming policy was cut first and apologize later, such an announcement might have elicited fear and concern among homeowners with a lot of trees near power lines.

“They used to just top them,” said Jim Teiber, city arborist for Joliet.

But simply lopping off the top part of the tree created a host of other problems.

One was increases in suckers – a vigorous growth in stems from the branch and trunk cuts. Sucker growth eventually would result in even more vegetation contact with power lines, which ComEd says is a key cause of power outages.

The other problem was aesthetics. Topped timber usually looks terrible and the city would be bombarded with homeowner complaints about butchered trees, Teiber said.

That started to change in 2000, when ComEd achieved a four-year trimming cycle from trees around its main power lines, said Emily Kramer, manager of Distribution Vegetation Management for ComEd.

“We’ve been doing it for many years now, so typically when we go and trim, we’re only trimming what’s grown back,” Kramer said.

Power line contact with trees and bushes remains one of the leading cause of outages, but the utility now focuses on directional and lateral pruning, rather than simply lopping off the top of the tree.

“We’ve learned a lot and aligned our pruning to best industry practices,” Kramer said.

How a tree gets pruned is determined by both its proximity to the power line and its species. Typically the only branches trimmed are those that would interfere with the power line, which can result in trees trimmed only on one side and V-shaped trees.

“Sometimes it looks abnormal, but it’s actually the proper way to trim the tree,” said Kramer, a certified arborist. “We are only trimming the branches where the power lines are. It allows the rest of the tree to remain in its natural form. You want to make sure the tree has enough leaves remaining so it can create food and stay healthy.”

Since the trees now are trimmed on a regular basis, their appearance stays more or less the same. And residents are now alerted when their trees will be trimmed, Kramer said.

Teiber noted tree trimming complaints have dropped drastically in recent years.

“They don’t go through the neighborhoods cutting down trees like they used to,” Teiber said. “It’s not as unsightly as it was in the past. They still have to clear the wires, but I think ComEd does a good job of educating the public.”

Kramer said ComEd is now proactive both in alerting the public about trimming and educating homeowners about not planting large trees under power lines.

ComEd and the Morton Arboretum offer a planning guide for residents, encouraging the planting of small trees and shrubs under power lines. Small tree examples include the Ann and star magnolias, red buckeye, eastern redbud, Allegheny serviceberry, cornelian and kousa dogwoods and American hornbeam.

This fall’s trimming on McKinley Avenue and Zurich Road is an older part of town with a lot of larger, older trees, typical of the more timbered areas that ComEd focuses on, Teiber said.

“Mostly they are trimming trees that have been there for years, and the people living there know what’s going on,” Teiber said.

It’s a situation that also occurs in other parts of town, such as the Cathedral Area and Reedswood, and in neighborhoods where power lines run along easements behind back yards, Teiber said.

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