None of the four GOP candidates seeking their party's nomination for the DuPage County Board Chairman's seat likes what ComEd has done to hundreds of trees along several trails in the county.
They also agree something needs to be done to prevent further deforestation, but opinions diverge on how to make that happen.
The four were asked, in a questionnaire sent to them by the Daily Herald, to detail how they'd solve the problem. The candidates are state Sen. Carole Pankau, Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso, state Sen. Dan Cronin and current Dist. 4 county board member Debra Olson.
Olson says the state legislature needs to be petitioned to enact laws requiring ComEd to replace any trees they take down with lower-growing ones; Cronin supports legislation with guarantees that the utility still will remove trees that threaten power service; Grasso proposes a specific schedule for tree removal and plantings, while Pankau proposes all tree trimming be done only by contractors certified by the Morton Arboretum.
The trimming issue came to a head in the summer when trail enthusiasts complained to the county that ComEd contractors were lopping the tops off trees and spraying herbicide along the Great Western Trail and Illinois Prairie Path. Officials from the utility company maintain they were keeping branches out of overhead power lines that run parallel to the trails at various points.
ComEd officials agreed to restore some areas that were damaged, but not all. The sides also could not come to an agreement on what to do about future tree-trimming efforts, and county officials announced they would seek legislative relief to force utility companies to restore vegetation destroyed to accommodate utility easements.
DuPage is hosting a public forum on the topic at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday in the county board meeting room on the third floor of the Knuepfer Administrative Building at 421 N. County Farm Road in Wheaton. The forum will feature presentations by the Illinois Commerce Commission, ComEd and the DuPage County State's Attorney's office.
Democratic county board members have been seeking the commerce commission's intervention for months.
"The current state statute is insufficient to deal with this perpetual problem," Olson said. "I have joined the chairman of the (county board's) environmental committee in proposing and supporting legislation that would require ComEd to replace high-growing trees they cut down or disfigure under their transmission lines with lower-growing native species."
Cronin also agrees with the legislative proposal, but believes ComEd should get rid of any trees that have the potential to damage power lines and interrupt service.
"It is in the best interest of all local residents for power lines to be secured and not threatened by large trees, particularly during storms that could cause major power disruptions," he said. "There is also a concern about the widespread non-targeted use of herbicides to kill the remnants of trimmed foliage. Utilities are subject to specific tree-care standards and the county must ensure that ComEd is meeting those expectations."
Grasso said he has fought the utility already on this issue in Burr Ridge and would employ similar methods to ensure ComEd takes care of trees along the trails in the future.
"The better approach is to set a schedule, such as five years, invest initially in a forester and coordinate tree trimming and cutting in a horticulturally sound manner," he said. "As for herbicides, their use must be eliminated or applied only in the most difficult justifiable circumstances."
Pankau wants to initiate a program that mandates trimming can only be done by contractors certified by the Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
"I will create a partnership with the Morton Arboretum to train ComEd's tree-cutting subcontractors who perform tree maintenance on the Prairie Path and the Great Western Trail," she said.
The primary is scheduled for Feb. 2. Early voting begins Monday. The winner of the GOP primary will face off against Democrat Carole Cheney in the Nov. 2 election.