The sounds of chain saws soon will fill Watson Park again.
Despite questioning by Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday, crews hired by Westar Energy will resume tree trimming in and around the park to stop trees from interfering with important power lines.
“We’re tasked with providing safe and reliable electricity, and, unfortunately, tree trimming is a big part of that,” said Chad Luce, manager of customer and community relations for Westar.
But Luce told commissioners that crews will not need to entirely remove any more trees from Watson Park itself. Crews cut down five trees last week before city commissioners asked them to halt operations in order to give everybody more time to consider other options.
Luce said at least three more trees in the park will have to be trimmed, in some cases extensively. In addition, three trees on Seventh Street west of the downtown park will have to be entirely removed. But Luce promised commissioners that work on those trees won’t begin until Westar officials have had the opportunity to personally talk with property owners who live near the trees.
City commissioners did ask staff members to come up with some ideas on how Westar could better notify property owners about tree removal in the future.
“It seems like every time Westar goes on tree-trimming work, I get lots and lots of phone calls,” said City Commissioner Mike Amyx.
Westar does deliver door hanger notices to properties that are likely to be affected by tree cutting, Luce said. But commissioners said they would like the company to work more closely with city staff members so that neighborhood meetings could be organized prior to any cutting.
Luce said the company was open to ideas on how to better communicate tree-cutting plans. The city and Westar crews, along with some representatives of the Old West Lawrence Neighborhood Association, did walk through the area prior to cutting in December.
Luce said Westar also studied the feasibility of burying the power line so that tree cutting would not be necessary, but cost estimates were around $1 million.
City Manager David Corliss told commissioners that state law limits the city’s ability to regulate how and when Westar cuts trees that are in utility rights-of-way.
Luce said the tree-cutting program was an important one, estimating that 7,300 Lawrence customers had power outages last year related to trees interfering with power lines.
“I think a lot of this comes back to education for all of us, and just understanding what the mature height of a tree will be and what types of trees are appropriate to plant underneath a power line,” Luce said.