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Some homeowners not happy about Westar initiative to prune or remove trees

By Corene Brisendine

Representatives from Westar Energy told city commissioners Tuesday they are in Manhattan cutting back or removing trees that pose a threat to power lines.

Westar repreentative Elise Eisenbarth said Westar started the Reliabilitree program in 2010 in Wichita in order to reduce the number of power outages to customers caused by tree limbs entangling the power lines. While Eisenbarth said the utility has seen great results in reducing outages associated with trees — Wichita customers have experienced a 78.6 percent reduction in outages and Lawrence customers a 94.7 percent reduction — some home owners are not quite as joyful.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich said he was concerned about the communication with property owners. He said there was little of that when the crews came through in 2007 following the ice storm that knocked out power for most of Manhattan.

“What I’m referring to came afterwards, when everything was back up and running and the crews came through and did their thing along the lines and I was recipient of some interesting cutting,” Jankovich said. “I understand this is to try to clear the line, but there was zero communication as to how, when and what the result would be.”

Eisenbarth said the crews are placing bright orange door hangers on the front doors of property owners who will be affected by the tree trimming, but it is up to the owner to contact Westar in order to discuss what the crews will be doing and voice any concerns about it. She said the crews will also knock on the doors before starting, but no other form of communication will be initiated by the crews or the utility.

Hershall Sanders, vegetation manager for Westar in the Manhattan area, said he would tell property owners who call him why and how tree services are removing or trimming trees.

As for compensation for the removal of trees, Eisenbarth said the company is working with city administrators to help fund projects to replace trees that are removed on public property. But she said no compensation will be given to private property owners.

“It would take a pretty big check book to do that,” she said.

Mayor Loren Pepperd lauded the program, saying trees, especially in Kansas, are the main cause of power outages. He also said property owners shouldn’t plant anything within power line easements. “[T]he power company, the gas company or the cable TV people can come right through that area and dig that whole area up because that actually doesn’t belong to you,” he said.

Westar has divided the city into four quadrants with the cross streets being Claflin and College. Eisenbarth said the crews are currently working in the northeast quadrant and will move systematically through the rest of the city until complete. The tree trimming crews will return every four or five years to keep the limbs and trees out of the lines.


Gary Conrad, a biologist at Kansas State University and critic of the siting of the NBAF here, reiterated his opposition to NBAF coming to Manhattan during the consent agenda public comment session. He did so as commissioners approved various certificates and easements associated with the transfer of the property to the Department of Homeland Security.

Stan Herman, Manhattan resident, also voiced his opinion. He said he lives two blocks from the site and he didn’t see it as any more of a threat than the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is in the heart of Atlanta where there is an international airport and a major hub of traffic in the U.S.

“Only about 10 percent of animal diseases can be transferred to humans,” Herman said. “But down in the Center for Disease Control, 100 percent of those diseases can be transferred to humans.”


General agenda

The general agenda item was a proposal to reopen the bidding period for receiving proposals for the roundabout sculpture at Fourth and Bluemont. Eddie Eastes, assistant director of Parks and Recreation, said the original three applicants had already contacted the board to find out what they needed to do to resubmit their proposals. The new period will give the public 90 days to submit a written proposal to the board for consideration.

The city has earmarked $20,000 for the sculpture, and if the construction costs more, it is up to the board to raise private donations to cover any additional costs.

Jason Hilgers, assistant city manager, told commissioners that it more than likely would cost more.

All the consent and general agenda items were approved by the commission unanimously except for the authorization of a service agreement with Bartlett and West Engineers. Jankovich announced he would abstain from voting on that item due to his past relationship with the engineers.

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