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Tree trimming trouble

W. Kenneth Medley II • May 1, 2019 at 8:00 PM

Roaring chainsaw motors had residents of Martindale Estates and the mobile home park near Hidden Oaks Drive concerned as contract tree trimmers from Elizabethton Electric Department cut away vegetation along a backup power line easement.

Storms over winter caused three pine trees to fall, according to residents in the area. One large tree toppled two others, bringing down some power lines that Rob Toney, general manager of Elizabethton Electric Department, said provide a backup source of power for the neighborhood if a problem arises in the primary system, which is underground.

The trees were on one resident’s property; they fell across the lines and an easement and onto another resident’s property, according to Toney. Now, piles of felled trees, mangled branches and downed wires are in Robert Bachman’s back yard.

Scarred trees that will be future hazards and piles of debris that make great homes for pests and snakes have Bachman angry.

“They just came and started cutting,” said Bachman during an interview. “I have called and I have called but they don’t pay (any attention) to me. Look at this mess; they cut good trees and everything. I asked them what they were going to do with this mess, they said, ‘nothing.’ I said, ‘wait there, you’ve cut my trees down without my permission and you are just going to leave them laying?’ They said, ‘yeah.’”

Rick Tate, neighbor to Bachman, was beginning to burn a brush pile in his backyard Wednesday morning with some of the cut trees and limbs from the previous day’s trimming, as Bachman gave a tour of the area.

Tate said that he had called about the trees being on the drooping power lines. That complaint call was confirmed by Toney.

“He had called about the easement and lines being down,” Toney said, “because he wanted to clean the area up.”

Tate said that the lines had been sagging for two months or more with nothing being done. Then on Tuesday, the sound of sawing startled the neighborhood. He too spoke with the tree trimming crew as they worked, and was told they would not be returning to clear the debris.

Bachman continually emphasized the downed vegetation being left is what has him infuriated. He says his service in the Navy has left him with health problems. A few of the larger trees cut are encroaching on his back door.

“When I was younger and in better health, I would clear this mess myself and not even bother,” the way Bachman tells it, “but now I can’t. I have bad knees, CPOD, emphysema … all service-connected.”

During a telephone interview, Toney assured that a contract crew from Elizabethton Electric Department would return to clear the debris.

He did say that they would clear the trees and vegetation that was cut, not the three big pines that came down due to natural causes. He said that those are the responsibility of the property owners.

Guidelines on the department’s website do state that trees and vegetation that fall due to a storm will be cleared to restore power, but removal will be the responsibility of the property owner.

The guidelines continue to say that a reasonable effort will be made to contact property owners before trimming occurs. Toney said that in this case a right-of-way easement was agreed upon when the area was developed in 1981, so the power company does not need permission to access the area.

“It was so grown up that we are going to have to clear some of that out to get the wire back up,” said Toney. “On the trees that fell during the storm, no we are not responsible for that. For the ones that were cut, we will have to grind those. If there is a utility easement there we have to maintain a line. We can’t just let it go, especially with wire laying on the ground.”

Toney added that he had been informed about a discussion between the trimming crew supervisor and a property owner Wednesday morning, a day after the conversation occurred.

He was in the process of reaching out to the utility customer at the time of his interview with the press. He said that once he is able to get his “ducks in a row,” he will be better informed and able to give a date when crews would return to clean up the debris.

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