Several trees along the Illinois Prairie Path and Great Western Trail are nothing more than rooted poles after ComEd contractors sheered the leafy tops off to keep branches from overhead power lines.
The actions outraged advocates for the nature trails, who say the power company is destroying the natural buffer along the paths. However, ComEd officials said they are stuck between the county's rules that forbid removing trees and federal and state regulations that require tree branches be kept significant distances away from power lines.
DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom issued a statement Monday saying ComEd had agreed to remove the stumps and any debris left behind from the trimming and replace the trees with new flora that won't grow as tall. But that's news to ComEd.
"Who's going to pay for that?" asked ComEd spokesman Peter Pedraza. "We did meet with DuPage County officials (Monday) and we continue those discussions with the goal of arriving with a long-term agreement, but these discussions are ongoing. We're committed to working this out. We have an understanding, but there are some specific areas that we need to continue discussion."
Pedraza said ComEd does have a program in place that replaces trees, but no specifics have been worked out regarding Prairie Path restoration.
Trail advocates said ComEd's tree replacement program doesn't provide viable trees, though.
"They're only six to eight inches tall, and are easily trampled," said Don Kirchenberg, voluntary chairman of the Friends of the Great Western Trails. "We want a buffer along the trails. We don't want to look into people's yards, and those people don't want us looking into their yards."
ComEd has easement rights or owns property along 37 miles of the county's 92-mile recreational trail system.
"Every time you do this you take away a little piece of the Prairie Path that can't be replaced," said Ray Bartels, President of the Illinois Prairie Path.
ComEd officials met with the county's Trail Maintenance Task Force in May to go over plans the power company has to initiate a program that will eliminate invasive and nonnative plants from along the trails. The task force was empaneled about six years ago after a similar kerfuffle erupted over trimming. Many trail advocates left the meeting with concerns about how contractors would apply herbicides along the trails.
The task force recommended direct contact application of herbicides instead of spraying, and Pedraza said that ComEd contractors planned to do that. However, Kirchenberg doesn't trust the power company.
"ComEd is saying they are trimming the trees in a healthy manner using licensed professionals, and they say that with a straight face," he said. "Now, they are saying they will spray the herbicides in a healthy manner using licensed professionals. If they spray the herbicides like they trim the trees, we are all in big trouble."
County board members Rita Gonzalez and Dirk Enger have entered the fray as well, calling on the board to keep ComEd from chopping the trees along the trail and spraying herbicides.
"ComEd's contractor is chopping the tops off trees leaving no branches to grow instead of trimming them in a healthy manner as required by state regulations," Gonzalez said.
The sides are expected to meet again soon, but no date has been set.