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No resolution in DuPage tree dispute
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/13/2010 12:01 AM

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The airing of the grievances has concluded, but the future of trees interfering with power lines along trails in DuPage County remains uncertain.

The county held a forum Tuesday with input from all the major players in the ongoing saga over ComEd's tree-trimming practices along the Great Western Trail and Illinois Prairie Path.

ComEd officials admitted that they "messed up" by lopping the tops off trees with branches reaching into the power lines instead of just cutting down the entire tree, but said they were only following state and federal guidelines. The Illinois Commerce Commission's executive director said he realizes that there's a problem with ComEd's practice, but the utility oversight agency can't find any fault with what they did. Even an opinion from the DuPage County State's Attorney's office said the county can enforce stricter vegetation removal standards, but that it would be on the hook for any additional costs.

ComEd Vice President of Corporate Affairs Calvin Butler said the company would be willing to negotiate replacement of vegetation, but he doesn't believe the full cost should be borne by the company. He pointed to restoration efforts along almost three miles of trails where trees were replaced by 750 shrubs at a cost of $41,250 that ComEd picked up. He also argued that many of the 3,000 trees that were cut down this past year by ComEd contractors were nonnative and invasive species.

ComEd officials said the company spends upward of $60 million a year on tree-trimming throughout its coverage area and that almost 450,000 customers annually lose power because of tree-related outages.

The trimming issue has been a problem for years in DuPage County, so much so that a special task force was created to try and solve the problem seven years ago.

County board member Jeff Redick suggested that instead of passing the cost on to consumers to replace the trees, the power company should take a more long-term look at a solution to the problem. He believes that the company could save millions of dollars by removing trees that interfere with power lines and replacing them with trees and brush that will never grow to the height where they would interfere with the lines.

"In five years they'd be done," Redick said. "All the money they spend on trimming each year would be eliminated. That would be a windfall."

Butler said that it's an idea worth investigating. Tom Richardson, a member of the local River Prairie Sierra Club group, said the savings to both customers and ComEd makes it a viable solution.

Board member Dirk Enger said ComEd could use any excess funds to bury the power lines, making outages even less likely and the power supply more secure.