|Throughout Indiana there has been an outcry over the perceived abusive tree-trimming practices used by local utilities. The utilities maintain that they are required to use aggressive practices to prevent outages caused by falling and overhanging tree limbs in order to provide “safe and reliable” service.
At the heart of these complaints is a perceived attitude coming from the utilities that, “We can do whatever we feel is necessary to trim or remove trees to cut costs and insure the distribution system reliability.” The utilities have used an Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) Tariff Code E-16,15.2 as their legal authority to do whatever they feel best.
This tariff continues today to be the legal foundation used by IPL and possibly other utilities to install low voltage and high voltage lines wherever they choose, even without adequate pre-existing easement rights; and to take personal property (trees and shrubs) without prior approval of property owners and without due process and compensation.
No other Indiana company or unit of government has such unlimited power. Tariffs are not subject to the kind of rigorous review, or public scrutiny as other IURC rules, or State laws. This ability to bypass routine reviews of the Attorney General’s Office may explain how abuses could have escaped a governmental agency’s oversight for so long. In our estimation, the entire approval process for tariffs is seriously flawed.
The actual motivation can be found in statements made by utilities in which costs can be reduced by cutting larger portions of vegetation. This allows trimming cycles to be stretched out.
As an example, an urgent and serious situation has developed on the Indianapolis northwest side involving the south side of West 86th Street from Lafayette Road to I-465, and Lafayette Road from 86th Street south (Trader’s Point), affecting numerous property owners and miles of land. IPL chose to use an existing route for lower voltage lines on which to piggyback high voltage lines. The poles were placed as close to the private property boundaries-Right of Way Lines-(ROW) as possible which seems to be their standard practice. This placement obligates the utility to trim or remove trees from private property extending beyond the ROW, and into the property owners’ yard. Due to the higher voltage, clearances of 30 to 35 feet or more are now needed. This only increased the amount of damage already made necessary by the pole placement practice. In effect, hundreds of old-growth trees are in danger of removal or severe trimming, in addition to those already damaged in a prior cutting of 2005.
By virtue of the permanent need to keep these areas clear of threats to power lines please recognize that, in addition to this type of removal, all property owners adjacent to power lines, whether there are trees already planted or not, have had their rights to free use of their property restricted. There are no “low growing” evergreen trees (conifers). Therefore, no year-round privacy barrier can be planted within the areas we believe have been unlawfully taken and no “tall growing” species of deciduous trees can be planted. Damage to private property already done and what may occur in the future, based on this example, certainly can be estimated in the millions of dollars.
Recently a major natural gas pipeline was being built across several Midwest states, including Indiana. Before construction was even begun, easement rights had to be obtained and compensation paid to property owners. In IPL’s case, no such prior easement rights were obtained or compensation made for the additional easement necessary beyond the ROW. This reflects, in our view, IPL’s attitude in regard to their interpretation of 15.2: “We can do whatever we want.”
A number of Traders Point neighbors, along with others who share our opinion, plan to seek an opinion from the State Attorney General as to the Constitutionality of Tariff 15.2.
This will be part of an effort to encourage our State Legislators to consider ending a practice we believe is unlawful, and begin a dialog with utilities to develop a better way to protect their lines, and, at the same time, protect private property rights.
Anyone interested in supporting our effort can email us at email@example.com, and We will tell you how you can help.
Gerald and Cindy Baker