West Park resident upset about trees removed by SaskPower

A Battleford resident has voiced concerns after numerous trees on his land were removed by SaskPower last week.

Ryan Ziegler of  West Park in Battleford spoke to the News-Optimist to voice his displeasure with SaskPower’s “handling of trees and private property.”

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Last Thursday, SaskPower crews came to his property and removed the trees. Ziegler said about 20 of his trees were destroyed and he said a couple of neighbours’ trees were destroyed as well.

“None of us were happy about what happened,” said Ziegler, who believes his property has taken a massive hit in value due to the loss of the trees.

The main issue had to do with trees within a three metres of high-voltage power lines.

Ziegler said in early May a land specialist with SaskPower came to his property and told him all his trees within that three-metre zone would be removed.

“They initially said they were planning to destroy the trees around their line,” said Ziegler.

After further in person talks with the SaskPower specialist, Ziegler says he was left with the impression the trees could be trimmed and remain on the property.

“It’s common practice for them to be trimmed on a fairly frequent basis,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler said he was then called on May 27 and told the trees would either be trimmed or that SaskPower was considering moving the power lines so that they would not interfere with his trees — in which case none of his trees would be touched.

Ziegler then was told he would be called in a week or two, but said he didn’t hear back from them again. Finally, he called SaskPower to follow up in mid-August.

A day later, SaskPower called back, and Ziegler was told that they “changed their mind and they were going to be destroying the trees after all.”

Ziegler responded that he was “willing to do whatever was necessary” to make sure the trees weren’t around the lines, “even if I had to trim the trees at my own expense,” he said.

“That wasn’t an option, they didn’t want to listen,” he said

Afterwards, Ziegler retained a lawyer and sent SaskPower a letter, requesting “they would work with me and come to some resolution that didn’t involve destroying my very valuable old trees.”

SaskPower responded with a letter a week later, he said, which basically asserted their right to take the trees down.

“They’ve got access around the property around their lines and can do whatever they see fit,” said Ziegler.

As to what recourse he has now, that is uncertain. Ziegler said he will probably have an assessment done to find out what his property value hit was.

His biggest concern is making sure Saskatchewan residents knew what is going on.

“If a government-run utility can just come onto your property and do as they like, rather than work with property owners, that’s a big concern,” said Ziegler.

SaskPower responds

When asked for a response by the News-Optimist, SaskPower cited safety issues as the main reason why trees are removed.

When trees come in contact with power lines, they “present a significant risk to the public,” said Joel Cherry, spokesperson for SaskPower. He cited situations of flashovers, where a high-voltage electrical discharge goes around the insulator, which can result injury or death. There is also a risk of wildfires happening from line contacts.

Cherry said tree removal or trimming is “necessary work we have to do.” In this case, SaskPower had the right to enter the land because of an easement on the title granted in 1962, and registered with the Land Titles office.

As well, “the Power Corporation Act gives SaskPower the right to enter land on either side of the power lines to trim or remove any trees necessary to prevent line contacts.”

In the case of the trees on Ziegler’s property, Ziegler had acknowledged these particular trees were near “high voltage lines.” In response, SaskPower confirmed that the proximity to high voltage lines is a major reason why the trees were removed instead of trimmed.

Cherry explained the “three-metre rule” applies to lower-voltage distribution lines, which carries power from switching stations directly to customers. He noted customers can call to have trees trimmed around distribution lines.

Transmission lines, on the other hand, are much larger high-voltage structures that carry power from the generation facility to the switching stations. These are subject to much stricter standards.

In those cases, in their easement there is no planting of trees allowed at all on either side of the power line. It is “totally a public safety issue,” said Cherry.

As for whether a customer could offer to keep the trees and trim them themselves, that is discouraged, due to the risk of incidents happening where power lines come into contact with trees during trimming. People have actually been killed that way, said Cherry.

“We don’t ever want a customer trimming a tree beside power lines.”

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