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Residents want to save trees along County 80

Trees grow into and under power lines, which Itasca Mantrap line officials would like to have removed. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Power poles along County Road 80 are almost obscured by mature trees growing alongside and into. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

A group of residents living on a scenic drive of Lake Belle Taine's south shore is organizing a "save the trees" campaign to get a power company to bury lines along the route, rather than felling hundreds of trees.

Homeowners on County Road 80 were notified recently by Itasca Mantrap Co-op that the electric company would need to trim trees and vegetation along the residential side of the roadway due to safety concerns of the mature trees growing into the power lines.

"We're just devastated," said Terry Saxton, who received notice. "Before we cut all these trees down we need to consider an alternative."

"Why have they decided to clear cut versus trimming which they have always done in 50 years?" asked resident Laura Inglis, her questions spilling out one after another. "Why is getting their trucks under the line an advantage over taking a cherry picker from the road? The road is so close to that power line. And why aren't they making an exception to this clear cutting rule when you have such a scenic byway in a residential area? Are they taking into consideration that all the vegetation and trees are a visual and noise barrier from 34?"

Inglis said the company "clear cut" last summer near her family cabin six doors from her lot and "it's like a tornado went through."

"It's not clear cutting," Itasca Mantrap CEO Mike Monsrud said. "Clear cutting would be taking our full 25 feet on each side and we're not. But we are cutting all the trees under the lines that are growing into the lines."

The power company owns a 50-foot right-of-way under the lines that all customers agree to before purchasing service from the co-op.

Trimming isn't an option because "that still limits our getting into them and being able to maintain" the wires, Monsrud said. "The standard is 25 feet on either side of the wire and in this case we're trimming lighter, trying to do 10 feet but we definitely need it under the wire."

Since 2005, according to company records, that stretch of roadway has seen 133 power outages due to trees. Last year's 14 outages affected 1,166 members.

"That's not necessarily specific to getting trucks in there," Monsrud said. "It's the danger that's involved in it. I write articles every year and put in the newsletter it's not just for access, if you pet is in there and it's damp and moist and it happens to touch the tree, that electricity will follow down the tree. It could be your grandson, be your kids, you leaning against a tree touching the wires. You could be injured, maybe even killed."

Letters were sent to each billing address along the route, but Saxton and Inglis question the notification. Monsrud said each customer got notice at his or her billing address, since many are seasonal residents.

Saxton and Inglis mentioned an April 1 deadline, but Monsrud said a contractor isn't likely to do the work until at least midsumer.

Saxton and Jerry Wittenberg met with a line superintendent last week.

According to the two, the company said it could bury the line if each resident agreed and picked up the tab. The cost was around $54 per foot.

"Whenever we do anything like that it's the full price of whatever it costs to put that underground," Momsrud said. "And we can't do 50 feet and come back up again because then the neighbors on each side will have (switch) cabinets and anchors in their yards."

But it's the safety aspect of the project that the company sees as a priority.

"When those trees are touching the lines, they work just like a transformer," Monsrud said. "They're bleeding electricity off those lines. It's just like a light bulb. They're using that and the electricity is going through back to ground. That's where it wants to go all the time so it causes us line loss, electricity we can't sell. Our line loss is between 5 and 7 percent of out kilowatt hours every year."

And that line loss is spread to all member customers, he said.

The trees in the lines are so unsafe, it would be possible to get shocked standing near one in the right conditions, Monsrud agreed.

"They're good conductors," Monsrud said. "The human body is a better conductor than a tree but they follow water and there's been many mishaps where kids have been up in trees. It could be a horse leaning against it, a dog lifting its leg..."

Saxton and Inglis are urging residents to contact them.

But Monrud said even if the cable is buried, some tree clearing would be necessary to service the line.

"If we bury it we'd still need a path through there, about a 10-foot wide path then, instead of 20 feet wide," Monsrud said. "Just to be able to drive a pickup down and get to the boxes. There's many transformers all along there and junction boxes. It doesn't matter if the (trees) hang over the top then, but we still need access to the cable."

Saxton urged other affected landowners to contact him "so we can head off this catastrophe."

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364