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Power companys tree cutting raises concern
Homeowners upset after Jackson EMC makes big changes around power lines
Townsend employees cut down a tree Wednesday that was close to hitting power lines at a home on Harmony Church Road in Gainesville. Townsend, a contractor for Jackson EMC, removes tree limbs and whole trees that interfere with power lines. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Until last week, five trees stood between Jerry Morrison's home and Bryant Quarter Road.

The 12-foot-high trees have been in that same spot, shading his property and helping to block the view of the road, since Morrison moved to the property three years ago, he said.

The trees were cut last week as a local utility does what it says it needs to do to fulfill an obligation to its customers.

Jackson EMC officials say cutting trees near power lines is not a new practice for maintaining its power lines, but the process is regularly a difficult pill to swallow for residents.

Morrison said a contractor showed up at his mobile home on Friday, and by Monday, his trees were gone.
"They sure was awful pretty trees," Morrison said. "It just ruined the look of my place."

Trees in his neighbors' yards are sharing a similar fate. Morrison said a neighbor lost some of what Morrison described as "the prettiest oak trees you ever laid your eyes on."

For the last several days, a contractor for Jackson EMC has been cutting trees deemed dangers to power lines in and around Gillsville Highway and Harmony Church Road, said utility spokeswoman Bonnie Jones.

The tree-trimming in the area is part of ongoing maintenance the utility does to clear vegetation that might pose a hazard to an electrical line.

If a tree's trunk falls within 15 feet of either side of a power line, the utility will likely have it cut to mitigate possible injuries and power outages, Jones said.

"We trim the limbs back to keep them from — in weather like we had this spring — falling over on power lines and interrupting service to a whole bunch of people, and to keep them from posing a shock or electrocution hazard to people who might touch a tree that's rubbing up against power lines," Jones said.

Most of the trees that are being cut in the Gillsville Highway area are Bradford pears that were planted "directly under" power lines, Jones said.

Bradford pears are known to grow large quickly.

"And we just can't do that," Jones said. "We have to keep an open corridor and allow visual inspection of those lines."

The utility offers suggestions on its website for types of trees customers can plant near the lines without the risk of losing them to power line maintenance.

"No one likes to see their trees cut. We realize that," Jones said. "But we have an obligation to make sure that electric power is uninterrupted as often as we can."

And Morrison says he understands the utility's duty, though he still questions whether his trees would have ever posed a threat to the power lines.

"I guess they treated me like they treated the rest of those people they had to go to," Morrison said. "...But it's done and done now."