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Planting trees under power lines

Published April 26. 2011 05:00PM

Three farm organizations met with PPL staff members to try and find center ground for an agreement replacing the company's new standard that everything except annual crops will be cleared from under power lines.

Glenn Beers of Kunkletown said PPL may have been too lenient in its clearing under the lines but now has gone to the other extreme. Beers is president of the Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association and family members operate the Olde Homestead Christmas Tree Farm in Towamensing Township.

He and the group's executive secretary Denise Calabrese, along with Greg Robertson, president, and Katherine Hetherington of the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association, and John Bell of the Farm Bureau Government Affairs Council traveled to Harrisburg April 21.

They met with Christine Martin, vice president of state government regulations; Ron Reybitz, from the senior council of the general council; and Philip Walnock, vegetative manager for PPL

The problem has come up with a vegetative management study done by PPL which was completed by Purdue University and Penn State. It does not consider trees as a crop.

Farm crops were only considered as annuals where the harvest occurs and a new growth cycle begins the following year.

But orchards, nursery plants and Christmas trees are crops also.

The Christmas Tree Growers gave a proposal that would allow trees of up to 20 feet in height with the landowner maintaining the ground in the easement.

A utility would have to give notice if the landowner was not in compliance. The owner would have 30-days to comply or PPL can come in and clear the property.

"We hope for an agreement that would allow nursery deciduous trees and evergreens, Christmas and fruit trees to reach a height of up to 20 feet. A blue spruce takes eight years to reach maturity (as a crop) so in five years we don't want someone to come and say they have to be cut. We need a realistic height so we can remain viable," said Beers.

He said the easements have varying widths. What PPL is doing is saying they don't want to see a tree in the easement, only native grasses or annual crops of non-woody species that get cleaned up annually.

Beers thinks the new standard came up because PPL was fined about having brush under the lines. They hope to resolve this and come up with a win-win situation for producers and utilities.

Other utilities have tightened standards but not to the same degree because they were not fined.

A second meeting was tentatively scheduled in two or three weeks. "We are working on the language and trying to make it work," Beers said. "I think we'll end up with something all parties will be satisfied with."

When the study was done forest trees that may reach 70 feet were being considered but a managed crop can co-exist.

"Farmers are the best free maintenance a utility can have," Beers concluded.

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