McMURRAY – Homeowners living in the Windermere neighborhood are protesting First Energy’s plan to clear-cut trees and spray herbicide along a seven-mile stretch in Peters Township before the end of August.
A First Energy spokesman said the work is mandatory to prevent trees from damaging a transmission line over the next decade. Now, residents are organizing a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Beinhauer Funeral Home community room in an attempt to seek a compromise or prepare legal action.
Residents said concessions have been offered to nearby businesses, like Simmons Farm, to prune their own trees, but that compromise has been rejected to the property owners in Windermere.
“Orchards and other businesses like them are actively managing their trees all the time,” First Energy spokesman Todd Meyers said.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure this is done right … it comes back on us if something happens, and any fines from breaking state regulations or if an accident happens, that falls on us,” he said.
Meyers said the transmission line, which has wires nearly 70 feet off the ground, needs to be clear of trees that have a potential growth of eight to 10 feet. During heavy electricity loads, the lines can sag to a lower height that may put them within reach in a few years. But homeowners, like Don Rizer, said First Energy is not interested in compromise or allowing small, one- to two- year-old saplings to stay.
“What they’ve always done is come in and trim trees that interfered with their maintenance needs around the towers,” Rizer said. “First Energy told us they’re going grind the trees on our property down to the stumps, spray with a herbicide, but they have no intention of removing the trees because they can’t get the equipment in there.”
Homeowner Gina Ciminel said the trees shouldn’t be a problem.
“We’ve maintained our property for seven years, the pear and pine trees have been here since we bought the place. There’s never been a problem with line maintenance. And that’s our question – what do we have to do to maintain these? What do we have to do meet a compromise?”
First Energy attributes yearly reductions in outages to its vegetation management.
“Three years ago, average wait time for a customer with power off was 115 minutes. This year, it’s 85 minutes,” Meyers said. “That’s because of our attention to trees and problem areas.”
First Energy has hired subcontractor Asplundh Tree Expert Co. to cut down the trees.