Archive for Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trees near Watson Park may be cut

Measure meant to protect Westar’s lines

About 20 big trees in and near Lawrence’s Watson Park may be cut down as part of Westar Energy’s program to keep trees out of power lines. This large tree, left, is one of many in the area in question. Westar’s power lines run through the tree.

About 20 big trees in and near Lawrence’s Watson Park may be cut down as part of Westar Energy’s program to keep trees out of power lines. This large tree, left, is one of many in the area in question. Westar’s power lines run through the tree.

December 9, 2009


Trees on chopping block

Trees near Watson park are on the city's cutting block. The trees pose threats to power lines in the area. Enlarge video

City leaders are warning that up to 20 mature trees in and near Watson Park in downtown Lawrence soon may fall victim to a chainsaw.

City parks and recreation officials have been notified that the trees are in danger from a program Westar Energy undertakes to keep trees out of power lines.

“It could end up changing the look of the area quite a bit,” said Mark Hecker, the city’s parks and maintenance superintendent.

The power line that Westar is trying to clear of overhanging trees runs along the north side of Seventh Street. When it reaches Kentucky Street, it then turn north and runs along the west side of Kentucky Street.

As a result, trees along the park’s edge that faces Seventh Street and along the park’s edge that faces Kentucky are in danger. Hecker said cutting also could be involved along Seventh Street west of Tennessee Street.

“It is painful for us because we’re in the business of planting trees, but we see Westar’s interest,” Hecker said. “The circuit they are clearing feeds a major part of downtown. If you lose that line, a major part of downtown is without power.”

Westar routinely does maintenance projects in Lawrence that involve trimming trees near power lines. Trimming the trees is an option, but Hecker said the Parks and Recreation Department likely will ask Westar to remove the entire tree in several instances.

“We’re afraid that if they were trimmed as much as they would have to be, that they would just be big, ugly trees that we really don’t want on our right of way,” Hecker said. “You want something that looks nice and is safe.”

The plan is for parks and recreation next spring to plant young trees — probably a couple of inches in diameter — to replace the lost trees. The new trees will be of a variety — perhaps crabapples or redbuds — that will be colorful but won’t grow to a size that would interfere with power lines.

The city plants dozens of trees along streets annually, and has standards for the type of trees that can be planted in order not to interfere with power lines. But these trees near Watson Park were planted long before that program began.

“We’ve actually had conversations about what came first, the trees or the power lines,” Hecker said. “We’re not sure.”

Cutting could begin in about two weeks, depending on the weather, Hecker said.

Most of the trees are in the city’s street right-of-way, which technically means that the city — not nearby property owners — are responsible for determining the fate of the trees. But Hecker said if a tree is in front of a home, the city or Westar will contact the property owner to discuss options.

“We understand that trees can have sentimental value,” Hecker said.


workinghard 8 years, 5 months ago

I know a few homeowners on 19th street that were left with ugly trees after most of the tree was removed. When they asked to have what was left removed, they were told no, and to have it removed themselves at their cost. Doesn't seem fair.

gccs14r 8 years, 5 months ago

That's because it was on the east side. We don't count.

How about putting the powerlines underground? That would fix the tree "problem" and reduce the number and severity of power outages from lightning, wind, and traffic accidents. It would also make the city look better.

BlackVelvet 8 years, 5 months ago

"That's because it was on the east side. We don't count." Exactly right! I live on E19th and my trees were BUTCHERED. Not trimmed. And it did no good to complain. Fell on deaf ears all the way around.

bigdave 8 years, 5 months ago

Who ever cut them tree's on 19th should be shot!!!!!!!!

Susan Lee 8 years, 5 months ago

Oh, this is disgusting!!!

It happened in Salina...instead of trimming Westar just came through and decimated entire neighborhoods. Because I spoke up, they also decided all my vines on my back fence needed to be removed, as they were "entangled with the trees" - which were eight feet away!

KPL did not have a destructive policy of tree control - they bothered to trim every few years instead of making radical removals.

Amy Heeter 8 years, 5 months ago

Westar contracts with Wrights tree service. They are butchers. Recently a tree came down in my neighbor's yard and ripped down my power line. Wright's hacked the hell out of the tree and left it in my yard. I called Westar to demand they return to clean up the mess. All they did was cut the limbs into three foot sections. They left all the wood scattered across my yard. I called Westar a second time but no one ever returned to clean it up.

infidel 8 years, 5 months ago

westar or any other utility has easements to the property, if you don't like them trimming or butchering to your liking, move or trim them yourself.

BlackVelvet 8 years, 5 months ago

Wouldn't it be nice if the LJW would look into why it is Westar hires a butcher instead of a tree trimming company. I'd bet whoever trims in WEST LAWRENCE probably does so with much more care than they do in EAST LAWRENCE

bigdave 8 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Jerry Harper 8 years, 5 months ago

Surely you are wrong. Westar is an annual recipient of an Arbor Day Foundation award for being such a friend to trees. And the city forester pals around with the Westar/Wright woodbutchers.

JohnBrown 8 years, 5 months ago

Underground power lines would require digging up the tree's roots, which would kill or severely disfigure the trees.

It would be nice if the cut up trees would be made available as fire wood and any boles or crotches offered to local woodworkers.

lelly 8 years, 5 months ago

Wright's has done a poor job on the west side of town as well. Take a look at trees along Kasold, Peterson, Folks, Lawrence Ave... They are not in the business of tree care; they cut, they leave. I understand Westar's concern for power lines, but there isn't oversight of Wright's work and both company's get a bad name because of it. I see this as poor stewardship of resources, both trees and money. Westar doesn't get my support for rate increases because of this and other reasons (fraud). And Wrights will never get a call from me to care for our trees. Maybe one person doesn't count, but I have to stand up for what I believe.

Cindy Wallace 8 years, 5 months ago

Watson Park is one of this city's most beautiful landmark's. Please, can't there be some kind of alternative proposal rather than destruct these large beautiful tree's. Does anyone know how old those tree's are? It would be bad enough to have them cut down due to disease, but we are talking about large, tall, beautiful, HEALTHY trees! Perhaps the power lines could be relocated to the other sides of the streets where tree's are not as prevalent and do not make up the landscape as they do in Watson Park.

My heart is heavy at the very thought of these tree's coming down.

gccs14r 8 years, 5 months ago

Who says the powerlines were there first? Besides, it's faster to relocate a powerline than it is to grow a tree to maturity. It's almost like they're jealous that those of us in the older parts of town have cool trees and they don't, so they're using their power to cut down our trees.

quimby 8 years, 5 months ago

This bites. There's basically nothing we can do about it, now that the trees are where they are and the lines are where they are. Another lesson learned about the placement of trees and power lines. They new lil trees will pale in comparison to these beautiful established trees...

gccs14r 8 years, 5 months ago

Relocating the lines underground is a money-saving measure both for Westar and the ratepayers.

Melissa Padgett 8 years, 5 months ago

BIG MISTAKE. Watson Park is a gateway into the city of Lawrence and gives Lawrence some of its charm and uniqueness. The city and the chamber of commerce need to get with Westar and plan a different option. I am sure there is something that can be done besides chopping/trimming the trees and leaving Watson park with some puny little trees that in 100 years will barely give any shade. It may cost the city/chamber some money but it is in the best interests of downtown Lawrence!

Ken Lassman 8 years, 5 months ago

So, folks, start doing your homework and come up with some alternatives. Here's a good place to start:

hujiko 8 years, 5 months ago

Even with Big Lew you don't see the university chopping down Marvin Grove. Move the power lines, the trees are doing quite alright where they are currently.

Joe Hyde 8 years, 5 months ago

Due to Watson Park's "seniority", and because it is one of Lawrence's important first impression city parks, it would be worth the City Commission's time to investigate the cost of running these power transmission lines through this area in an underground conduit. Could be we can afford to have this done.

From the story's photo and attached news clip video, it's evident that the power lines have been running through the branches of those trees for a number of years. Obviously, this makes the power lines extremely vulnerable to breakage should a severe wind storm drop heavy branches onto them. I would take this as evidence that Westar officials and our Parks & Rec Dept. officials have long placed a high value on Watson Park and for years they have been extremely reluctant to degrade the park's appearance by removing those trees or severely pruning them.

Rather than to put the weight of deciding the fate of those important trees on Mark Hecker's shoulders alone, it would be more fair if the City Commission decided this matter as a political issue. Which I feel is justified in this case because so many Lawrence residents use that park, and removal of those trees will have an immediate and disastrous effect on its appearance and attractiveness.

my_2_cents 8 years, 5 months ago

In Craig, Colorado, the city had to cut down many trees in a park due to disease. The town had a chainsaw sculpture competition with what was left of the trees, about 5-8 feet tall. It brought in artists from around the country. The result was beautiful, interesting, and unique. Not that I want to see the trees cut down, just sayin..

Danimal 8 years, 5 months ago

I can't believe the city of Lawrence is just going to let this happen. Of course, the town is changing, Lawrence seems to be becoming a place where corporations can do pretty much anything they want. I'm sure that someone in town will take up residence in one of the trees on cutting day.

Underground power lines are less expensive to maintain and more reliable, but they cost considerably more to install. Seeing as how neither the tax payers or the utility companies are going to cough up the cash, we're stuck with ugly above ground utilities and butchered trees.

esteshawk 8 years, 5 months ago

One can assume Weststar holds easements, which would allow them to do maintenance. Some of the trees "butchered" elsewhere are probably in public right-of-way, and not on private property, thus not owned by the adjacent property owner (your property does not go all the way to the street). If this is the case, it's the city's issue. BUT- if the trees are on your private property, Weststar would either have to leave the trees healthy enough to live, or compensate the owner for loss of value. Whining to the city won't do anything - take photos before, after, and get an attorney to go after Weststar directly. It would take a lawsuit to get their attention.

hipper_than_hip 8 years, 5 months ago

Westar has a franchise from the city for their easements, and franchise holders are responsible to the city. If you don't like how the utility is performing work within the easement, call the city engineer and complain. The city engineer has enough stroke to force the utilites to make it right with the citizens.

Do not accept substandard treatment from the utilities! Remember that Lawrence is your city, and you have the right to good service.

Richard Payton 8 years, 5 months ago

Not all powerlines can be placed underground. Most contractors working for utilities are instructed to cut back trees not trim. The idea of trimming trees would require utilities to hire more tree trimming companies which in turn increases payroll which then translates to asking board for rate hikes. Cutting back trees requires less work than having to send union electrical workers out to restore power because of a tree falling on an electrical line that may knock out an electrical grid.

Zachary Stoltenberg 8 years, 5 months ago

Too bad it isn't a little warmer, I'm sure one of the Tree Hugging loonies in this town could go live in one for a few months. At least they would have power ;).

gccs14r 8 years, 5 months ago

"Not all powerlines can be placed underground."

Show me an above-ground powerline in lower Manhattan.

topekan7 8 years, 5 months ago

A 2006 study from the Edison Electric Institute, an association of private power companies, estimated the average cost of burying power lines at $1 million per mile. That is the starting at the cheap end of the cost spectrum. Burying power lines costs 10-15 times what it costs to string them from poles. Are you willing to see your power rates skyrocket to save a few trees for aesthetic purposes? Or risk a major power outage during an ice storm when the trees will most likely be damaged anyway? Let Wright's do their job. And for homeowners who complain of the work that Wright's does on their property there is a simple solution: Pay an arborist to trim the trees yourselves...the way you want them done. If they are your trees...take responsibility and trim them. Otherwise, step aside!

ralphralph 8 years, 5 months ago

The Tree = natural enemy of the engineer

Richard Payton 8 years, 5 months ago

Tell me the cost of repairing underground lines verses the cost of trimming a few trees (priceless) !!

hipper_than_hip 8 years, 5 months ago

Shameless plug We've used Schonberg's Tree Service from Eudora, and they do a great job.

gccs14r 8 years, 5 months ago

"A 2006 study from the Edison Electric Institute, an association of private power companies, estimated the average cost of burying power lines at $1 million per mile."

I'd like to see that cost breakdown. We can use a Ditch Witch in a lot of places around Lawrence, and horizontal boring in other places. AT&T is doing it for fiber optic runs and the City does it for water lines. I seriously doubt that either entity is spending $1 million per mile.

georgeofwesternkansas 8 years, 5 months ago

Depending on the market price of copper and aluminum the wire cost alone will be $22-25 per FOOT. No trench, no labor, no pad mount transformer. Then from the transformer to your house another $12 per foot.

gccs14r 8 years, 5 months ago

The wire is a wash, since it has to be run anyway. Same with the transformers, just a different form factor. Trade poles for a ditch, and a 3-man pole crew for a 2-man ditch crew, and it's less of a difference in cost.

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