BWL Easements Missing

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Thursday, September 11, 2014, 11:47 am
Alice Dreger

The Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL) which supplies electrical power to a large section of East Lansing, appears to be lacking legal easements for its power lines, at least in a number of older neighborhoods including Glencairn and Oakwood. This unexpected discovery has been made by homeowners demanding to see copies of written easements before allowing BWL’s contractors to come onto their properties and cut vegetation.

Richard Crittenden, owner of a 1926 historic home in the Glencairn neighborhood, has pressed BWL to produce evidence of easement for the lines that run through his backyard, but has yet to be provided such evidence. Crittenden, without prior notice from BWL, observed as Wright Tree Service “aggressively” cut back the trees that enclose his and his neighbors’ lush backyards.

Two days earlier, Crittenden had given his wife, Conni, a signed Dr. Seuss print as a wedding anniversary present. Conni has a master’s degree in conservation education, and the print was from “The Lorax,” Seuss’s story of a being who tries hopelessly to advocate for trees against industry deforestation.

Like many homeowners, Crittenden received BWL’s letter about tree cutting and removal weeks after Wright had come to cut. Trying to understand his property rights, Crittenden has extensively researched BWL’s claim to be following industry standards and to be following the findings of the two reviews that followed the prolonged ice storm-related outage this past December to January.

Crittenden notes, however, that both the Community Review Team’s (CRT’s) report and the Public Service Commission’s (PSC’s) analysis do not specify the margin of cutting that should occur around power lines. The ANSI industry standards invoked by BWL also do not specify how far back and how high up to trim trees near power lines.

Without easements that specify BWL’s rights with regard to vegetation removal, and without specific margin recommendations from ANSI, the CRT, or the PSC, it is unclear how BWL is deciding how aggressive to be and how aggressive it is legally allowed to be.

Homeowners in various neighborhoods of East Lansing have elected to send BWL a letter that specifically demands to see written easements in advance of any further cutting. (Click here to see the template letter circulating in East Lansing neighborhoods.) Homeowners are also consulting lawyers in an effort to understand their rights with regard to BWL's contractors' actions, including damage to property.

I asked Richard Crittenden what he is hoping for in terms of a resolution. He replied, “I have no problem with trimming lines that are touching power lines or are dead or brittle and near power lines. I want a rational, balanced approach.” He added, “What’s going on is insane, and I want a sane approach to this issue.”

A letter last month from the Glencairn Neighborhood Association (GNA) to BWL’s Peter Lark echoed Crittenden’s remarks. GNA President Mark Fisk and Treasurer Jim Croon wrote to Lark, with a copy to the East Lansing City Council: “We are advocating that any proposed trimming and removal be conducted in a more moderate and targeted fashion, rather than by overzealous cutting that harms the character of the neighborhood. Our valuable urban forestry has been developed and fostered over numerous generations in Glencairn and it should not be damaged by an unwieldy approach.”

Disclosure: Alice Dreger owns a home in the Oakwood neighborhood, which borders the Glencairn neighborhood. Although her trees are not affected by the cutting plan, the trees of her immediate neighbors are.


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