February 21, 2013 | Vol. 116 -- No. 44

Cheney preps for power line clearance work

It may not seem like it yet but spring isn’t too far off, and with that in mind the city of Cheney is beginning its process of clearing away trees and vegetation around local power conductors.

It’s a practice Cheney has done for years, with work being subcontracted to local arborist firms beginning in 2001. Prior to that it was city crews doing the trimming, with results sometimes not so complimentary to the trees, let alone landowners desires.

“They’re (city crews) basically line workers and not certified arborists so we try to sub out as much so we don’t butcher the trees,” Cheney Light Department Director Joe Noland said. “Having contractors do the work who are more knowledgeable is better for us.”

Noland said the city spends on average about $40,000 annual clearing trees and vegetation away from power lines. As an information item at the Feb. 12 City Council meeting he presented a six-page set of clearance standards the city and its subcontractors have been following for years, but never put into print.

The techniques described in the document are designed to encourage tree and brush growth away from lines and poles, and as such may sometimes require more removal than the described standards. As a minimum, all vegetation must be cleared three feet from poles in all directions in order to allow climbing space.

The city is responsible for clearing power lines from pole to pole and from pole to the customer’s weatherhead located on or near the structure. For low voltage (0 to 750 volts), trees or limbs must be cleared horizontally 3-5 feet from conductors/poles, high voltage (750 to 13.2kv) 10 feet with vertical clearances from 750-13.2kv conductors also 10 feet.

Trees that continually have to be maintained or are in danger of falling down will be removed, as will diseased portions of trees, along with trees that are within falling distance of power conductors that face health issues, questionable ground conditions and other circumstances that leaves the tree unstable.

Contractors will reduce tree crowns, known as topping, under situations where the tops encroach on overhead lines. The city standards also require what’s called side trimming under situations where limbs are encroaching on conductors from the side.

The standards also note when preventative measures will be used such as herbicides growth regulators and right of way mowing. The standards describe a process that, while may average $40,000 a year, can help prevent additional, potentially larger expenses in the future should trees or tree limbs fall and damage electrical conductors.

“We’ve always made repairs out of our own pocket,” Noland told the council Feb. 12. He added that Community Development Director Brian Jennings is working on regulations for new developments preventing planting of trees or brush in such a manner as to future threaten electrical conductors.

One area not the city’s responsibility is communications cable running from a pole to the owner’s structure. That is left up to the property owner, Noland said, but the city can still be of assistance by coming out to the property and discussing what Cheney crews or their subcontractors can and can’t do.

In some situations owners may want a tree removed that isn’t an immediate danger to power lines, in which case Noland said the city might do a “safety trim” to remove potentially threatening limbs. An owner can also have the city “lower secondary lines” by having the power disconnected to the structure in order to create a safer environment for removing or trimming trees.

While there’s still some snow on the ground, Noland said they are approaching the beginning of the trimming season. He is anticipating issuing proposals and receiving sealed bids within the next couple weeks from qualified arborist firms, moving towards council approval some time in March with 6-8 weeks of trimming work getting underway in April.

“We’d like to get them (lines cleared) before it gets too hot in order not to stress the trees,” he said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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