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Tree Lovers Confront PPL

PPL Corp. enforces its 25-, 35- and 50-foot rights-of-way throughout Lower Macungie Township.

At an emotionally-charged meeting of the Lower Macungie Board of Commissioners on Thursday, a room full of residents listened to a PPL Corp. spokesman explain the company's new policy: to remove any woody-stemmed vegetation that could potentially damage power lines.

Paul Wirth of PPL explained that the Halloween storms of the past two years caused widespread power outages when trees took down power lines. Additionally, they grow up into the lines and can cause arcing which also is dangerous.

"So we're cutting more trees down," Wirth said. "We understand that you don't like having trees removed, but as a company, we have a responsibility to tens of thousands of others."

PPL will enforce its legal right to clear intrusive vegetation from rights-of-way which means either 25, 35 or 50 feet on either side from the center of a utility pole and the connecting wires. In other words, the company will clear 50-, 70- or 100-foot swaths under its lines that run in the vicinity of East Texas, Lower Macungie and Millcreek roads and Willow and Sauerkraut lanes and into Alburtis. 

The cost of the power outages—sometimes even measured in human life—is absorbed by all the utility's customers, Wirth explained.

Furthermore, where trees are removed from the company's rights of way, there are few, if any, outages, he said.

All of it made perfect sense, of course, but made no difference. Countless trees on 49 properties throughout Lower Macungie that beautifully provide privacy, shelter, shade have been adorned with what one homeowner called "the ribbon of death."

The people want their trees.

After his initial presentation, Wirth and two other PPL representatives took questions in the room adjacent to the commissioners' meeting room.

While some were loaded for bear, Princeton Drive resident Pier Monaco's voice cracked as he quietly told Wirth that the targeted Kwanzan Cherry tree in his yard is a memorial to his late wife, Carol, who died in 2007. Wasn't there something they could do?

Earl Burnside of PPL agreed to meet with Monaco to see what could be done.

After the meeting, Wirth said Monaco's memorial may be on the list of approved trees. If not, perhaps it can be moved, he said.

Another resident, Beth Ravier said she's lived on Wayside Drive for eight years. She has three sons and a dog.

Cutting down the trees in her yard exposes her family to a busy road sets free kids, the dog and balls that are now contained.

"It's Hello, Sauerkraut!" she said.

"This is going to look like a war zone. That totally sucks. It's totally unacceptable," she said to Wirth.

Ravier is also annoyed that she's the one who will have to absorb the cost of replacing the trees. That sentiment was echoed by several homeowners.

PPL provides a list of acceptable replacement foliage, but will not pay to purchase or plant them, Wirth said.

MS March 08, 2013 at 01:56 PM
They spent the past ten years destroying two of my trees with their "trimmings", now I hope they remove the eyesore...I can only wish
Broughaha March 08, 2013 at 01:57 PM
We have our eighty year old maple trimmed regularly to accommodate the wires. This seems like a much more viable solution to me. If people want to keep their trees, they will be willing to pay for the upkeep. I just can't support cutting down hundreds of trees on the off chance that one of them will fall and cause an outage. Don't we all think that homeowners should have a right to their property?
Rico March 08, 2013 at 01:58 PM
This in the long run would cost PPL more to track down and monitor trimming efforts everywhere. They know this is a huge headache and that's why it's not an option. I live along Sauerkraut too, and will be affected. It's a shame but we really have no say. Regardless, it's going to happen and either we move or deal with it.
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 02:00 PM
I agree Andrea. From a rate payer's standpoint I actually prefer the maintenance burden on the property owner instead of PPL. I would imagine it costs much less to drive a vehicle along the transmission line route once a year enforcing a property owner maintenance regulation vs. the capital expense of a wholesale cutting. Was a cost presented last night of clearing the entire length of the transmission line? I'd like to see a cost benefit analysis vs. property owner required maintenance. When the issue was brought up that some trees won't be an issue for a decade, they said they don't want to come back in a decade. Put the responsibility on the homeowners with appropriate enforcement and it's a non-issue.
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 02:02 PM
That's a key question Rico. In many cases the township REQUIRED plantings in the rights of way when subdivisions were installed. As recently as 3 years ago when the stormwater basin was retrofit on Willow Lane street trees were installed BY the township in the right of way. Drive down there past the basin. You'll see 25 (guessing) trees planted in the right of way by the township. I raised this concern last night.
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 02:10 PM
Here are my two general concerns after last night that are township related: First, I absolutely acknowledge the public concern of taking care of these rights of ways and PPL's right to enforce them. I completely understand that. Moving past that fundamental issue, here are two concerns from the township end of things. 1. The primary concern I raised last night was property owned by the township therefore the responsibility of the township. These include places where street-trees have been planted as recently as 3 years ago. Since the township made the mistake of planting these in the right of way, they need to explore other options to PPL's policy of cut and grind. If trees cannot be removed they should be replaced. For example, those located adjacent to the Willow Lane retention pond. These trees may be young enough to save and relocate out of the right of way. It's on the landowner (in this case the township) to address alternatives to "cut and grind" which is the default PPL policy. 2. When some subdivisions were installed the township required certain plantings in certain rights of ways. We need to immediately address the regulations that allowed this if still flawed. The fact that street trees have been planted in the right of way recently show our SALDO may still allow this. This needs to be addressed ASAP as there are potential development projects in the pipeline right now along transmission lines. More on my platform: www.ronbeitler.com
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 02:20 PM
It's not convenience. Honestly... I could care less about convenience. Personally I have a coal stove and it's kinda nice to be un-plugged every now and then. BUT the problem is..... It's the senior who needs an oxygen machine to stay alive. Or I have a friend with a kid who relies on electric for health reasons. Yes, of course they have a generator filled and ready to go at a moments notice. But.... the grid remains the most reliable option.
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 02:22 PM
I asked about distribution lines last night. They didnt have an answer. They said the policy coud change or it might not. NOTE transmission lines are the large lines, distribution are the smaller. In most subdivisions the distribution lines are buried. Unfortunately it's those of us who live in older sections of the township that have to contend with above ground distribution lines.... :/
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 02:28 PM
Well i can tell you where I live I waited from monday till friday to have met ed come and cut about 4 branches out of the wire and restore our power, meanwhile all week had candles and a lamp burning and 2 cats in the home, which could equal fire. I know it was the trees because they were cut right up the road from us. I do agree with you make it the property owners responsibility to care for the trees and if they don't the electric company removes the tree. Then they have their option to keep the tree. I know met-ed already came through after the storm this past october and cut some.
Willet Thomas March 08, 2013 at 02:28 PM
I figured it was only a matter of time before the Twp was blamed somehow for this situation. PPL decided to implement this on their own...it wasn't mandated. Thought the BOC handled the matter very well last night.
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 02:33 PM
Plus there are trees here by our place that if they come down they are on our house, or taking utility poles down with them. Even when met ed knocked on the door to say they were cutting the trees I said take them down around here lol, didn't get too far with that though and unfortunatly some that could fall and damage our home are off our property so not much we can do except hope they don't fall.
Broughaha March 08, 2013 at 02:36 PM
Tree relocation is an interesting alternative, although it seems like quite a hassle. Still, I see "cut and grind" as a short term solution to a long term problem. I remember hearing a lot about PPL's proposed "smart grid" after a few of the bad storms we've had. Do you know when/if PPL will implement it? I suppose it's too late for the smart grid to protect the trees currently on the chopping block.
Rico March 08, 2013 at 02:43 PM
Again Willet trying to protect the township for their incompetence. The Township required plantings but didn't monitor their implications.
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 02:43 PM
And also too you see my point arguing tree location, we have trees that can damage our property and no rights to remove them because not on our property, yes trees may be beautiful but your neighbor may not want your tree coming down on their home. Yes I am sure if that would happen we could take them to court but meanwhile have a damaged double wide mobile home which will probably be good and damaged from a tree, or possibly it could fall on the house and kill us.
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 02:45 PM
Respectfully, Willet this has nothing to do with the PPL's decision which I and most people completely understand. I am not blaming LMT for the tree cutting, I'm asking LMT to deal with preserving or replacing the trees the community owns. Given the decision to not replace the Village Walk street trees this is a valid concern. If your disputing the fact that LMT planted street trees in the right of way as recent as 2-3 years ago then your wrong. (when they retrofitted the storm water basin on willow). And the fact that in the distant past back in the day supervisors required the evergreen stands. I certainly don't hold the current board accountable for that but I do for the current issue of addressing the young street trees. With Willow as prime example and other recently approved projects, yes they absolutely made a mistake. All I'm asking for is they explore relocating the trees that are young enough to save. I have always been a proponent of street trees. As you may recall I fought the removal of 25 trees on Village Walk a few months ago. You were at the meeting last night, I think you'll agree I framed that request in the proper manner. I'm also following up today requesting an inventory of all township owned street trees. I'm very happy Lee and Sara indicated they are already on top of this. We are lucky to have the professional staff we have.
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 02:55 PM
When I critique the board I ALWAYS offer what I would do different in detail. For example, the Legacy Oaks street trees here is my post on how I would have handled the situation. Their mistake was waiving their own policy of requiring replacements. This outlines how I would have required the HOA to replace at least 8 of the street trees. My argument was that a street tree provides a unique benefit that a landscaping tree does not. Willet, I think you will agree that when I critique I always try to clearly present my alternatives. http://www.ronbeitler.com/2012/10/05/lower-macungie-boc-approves-removal-of-20-street-trees-in-legacy-oaks/ Fact of the matter is I fundamentally disagree with them on many points including mostly focused on smart growth and land use/development issues.
Rob Hamill March 08, 2013 at 04:15 PM
If there are any big walnuts or ashes, give me a call if you want them cut for lumber.
Michael D Siegel March 08, 2013 at 04:34 PM
This is what should be done in this instance. 1. The township should immediately take the tree and vegetation guidelines as explained in the PPL 69 kilovolt brochure (https://www.pplelectric.com/about-us/ppl-and-the-environment/vegetation-management/tree-trimming.aspx) and adopt them as a zoning ordinance change to the subdivision and land development ordinance (SALDO) for all new land developments 2. The Township should work together with PPL to establish a tree replacement fund to replace those properties whose trees must be removed. 3. The township should enforce their own zoning ordinance Section 1705 which prohibits trees in any easement. If they change the language, then a permit to plant in the easement should be secured by the homeowner. The problem is the twsp never enforced the ordinance unless they received a written complaint. The twsp may want to revisit this policy because now they are dragged into rectifying this problem 4. The twsp should place an article in their next newsletter about this situation. many residents are ignorant of this serious problem
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 04:39 PM
I say the township lets PPL do to the trees what they want, of course the residents will argue but then thats because they ae not the ones cutting them out of powerlines in a storm, they are not the fire dept. responding to a house fire that started because of a heater, fireplace, candle, etc., they are not the emt's responding to a call because someone with medical problems becomes ill because of the cold if they have no type of heat source, and last they are not the coroner responding to pull a body out of a house because someone died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Meanwhile emergency response teams cannot get to homes because their trees are all over the roadways causing road closures. The next step is if people do not want the trees removed hold them accountable for any damage caused by them, including power outages, damaged property and so on, bet they would change their minds about them coming down then.
Joe March 08, 2013 at 05:33 PM
The suggestion that homeowners assume and agree to trim their trees as a workable compromise is, at best, naive on many levels. From a cost perspective, the expense to properly and regularly trim trees is significant. Over a relatively short period of time it is much more than the cost for some fencing and planting screens compatible with the easement restrictions. Second, how does one enforce such an obligation over thousands of miles of right of way? Do you just hope and assume everyone is conscientous or capable of fullfilling their duty? Third and perhaps most importantly no homeowner in their right mind would want to assume the exposure and liability in failing to properly trim their tree. Are you going to reimburse PPL to repair a downed line, or compensate the neighbor who suffers a loss of property or injury due to the loss of power caused by your improper maintenance? You are not protected from such exposure and there is a good argument that you would not have coverage under your homeowner's for a contractual liability. As for the complaints about the Board from the candidate, let's be real, these trees and the encroachments occured years ago, under different circumstances and personnel. Further, many of the developers responsible for the planting are long gone. My developement, Winding Brook, is a perfect example of that. Trying to criticize the current folks is misleading and intellectually dishonest.
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 05:57 PM
Simple solution, you cannot afford to maintain the tree you remove the tree. As for asking if I would accept liabilty if our property does something, you bet we would, one example is we have a swimming pool and even though restricted from trespassing, if one of the neighborhood kids does and gets in that pool and drowns we are liable. As for another example, if we owned a dog and our dog would go and attack someone we are liable, whether homeowners covers or not, also we have a fire that now destroys our neighbors home we are liable. As for having a pool we understand we are liable and still choose to keep the pool, if we had a problem with that then the pool would not be here, and that is the same the homeowners can do with their trees if they do not want responsibilty of them. As for fencing, tell me how fencing will stop an 80 foot tree? It won't that will just be another piece of property destroyed with the home. And as for the trees existing before the residents were there, what do they care then if they come down or not?
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 06:29 PM
Joe the Willow Lane street trees I referred to were installed in summer of 2010.
Ron Beitler March 08, 2013 at 06:33 PM
@Michael correct on all points. I would add the township also has a street tree replacement policy they enacted 2-3 years ago. This is their own regulation they waived recently for Legacy Oaks. I'm not sure how these regulations apply in the right of way, but the township should honor the intention of it's own regulation.
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 06:56 PM
Anyway enlighten me on how accepting responsibilty for something you want on your property is naive. PPL wants to do their job and prevent damage or long term power loss but people want to stop them because they want their trees.
Joe March 08, 2013 at 08:25 PM
Simple, how is it possible to enforce such a policy on homeowners over thousands of miles of lines many of which are not always easily visible from a public place. The problems caused by trees affecting lineswon't be avoided. You want to keep your trees, how do you propose to maintain them? How often?, how do you certify to PPL you are meeting the obligation rather than just waiting and seeing until its too late. Is it supposed to simply trust you and hope nothing goes wrong that effects others in the area? As for your statement about accepting responsibility and giving the pool as an example, you really don't have an appreciation of the different exposures you are assuming, hence naivety.
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 08:57 PM
Lets just get something straight here, I wouldn't want the trees if our power company came in and provided free removal I would be more than happy to take them down. As for a pool, that is enclosed and has a ladder that flips up and locks, however I am still responsible if someone climbs into the pool without the ladder, plain and simple regardless of the accessibility of the pool anyone that enters it is trespassing, meaning breaking the law, yet we are accountable, but thats the responsibility we accept because we wanted the pool. PPL is taking these trees down at no cost and the homeowners do not want that they want the trees to remain, which to me means take liabilty then. I really do not get what you are saying accept that if you want something keep it but take no liabilty of it, that would be like us wanting the pool but if someone drowns in it we will not accept responsibilty for it.
tamarya March 08, 2013 at 09:04 PM
But anyway we put a pool up homeowners looks at that basically as a drown hazard, which it is no lie about that, as for trees they do damage also, and maintaining them that a person planting or choosing to keep one can find out from someone that specializes in landscaping, same way as any homeowner finds stuff out for maintaining stuff on their property, same way we got info for the pool. Not too hard to do.
Lori Smith Bowser March 09, 2013 at 02:19 PM
LMT and Keystone Consulting should together set up a fund or grant system to replace those trees (use some of that budget surplus money we have been saving) for 3 main reasons: 1. THEY allowed those trees to be planted in some cases as long ago as 20+years and as recent as 3 2. We would have a consistent look again along Sauerkraut and Willow that we will all miss 3. It would offset the loss of property value we will now face by losing all of our trees along willow and Sauerkraut
Michael D Siegel March 09, 2013 at 06:08 PM
The township should by tree seedlings from LCCD and plant them along the PPL right of way that meet the criteria of trees allowed in this area. By the way township, this a reverse frontal street buffer that the township required for land development that is now being destroyed- you do have a commitment to the residents who have this buffer within their property along Sauerkraut Rd to provide this vegetative buffering. if not trees, then a fence or low growing shrubbery like forsynthia
Broughaha March 11, 2013 at 01:07 AM
These suggestions all seem like better ideas than the current plan. I will concede that PPL has reason to remove the trees, but LMT must work with residents to make the inevitable hack-job less devastating. The township and PPl "should" help, but what can we do to make it actually happen?

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