An article in the Indianapolis Star on a dispute between residents of the West 86th Street area and Indianapolis Power and Light over IPL’s tree cutting policies.
The specifics of this case aren’t really that important to me. But, I have a personal interest in the law of utility tree cutting. A while back, I wrote this in response to a Muncie article about overzealous utility tree trimming approach:
The article discusses Indiana-Michigan Power’s new policy of clearing trees within 15 feet on either side of a three-phase power line and within 10 feet on either side of a single-phase line. Previously, the company would trim trees every 3 to 5 years.
The article doesn’t get into this, but my thought is that IMP and any other electric utility that behaves in this matter is asking for a fairly expensive class action suit — or at least a wave of individual suits. I guess it depends on how the utility’s easement is worded for a particular piece of property; but my understanding is that, by-and-large, the utility is only allowed to take action as is reasonably necessary to keep the line in good repair. Where trimming is an option, and the utility cuts a tree entirely without the consent of the property owner, it would seem to me that the utility is liable for the difference between the value of the trimmed tree and the value of the cut tree. Heck, maybe you could throw a claim at them for triple damages and attorney’s fees under IC 34-24-3.
I know that utilities get special treatment under the law a lot of times, but I went through the statutes awhile back when my electric utility was making noises about cutting down a bunch of my trees. I couldn’t find anything that let them simply clear cut through the easement with impunity. I pointed out the “reasonableness” provision of the easement, pointed out that the tips of my trees were at least 20 to 30 feet below the power lines, and indicated that they’d need a court order to cut my trees and they seem to have backed off. Maybe they’ll be back. So, if anyone knows how the law plays out in these situations, I’d love to hear about it.
I just tend to think that electric utilities are overstepping their easement rights. I know it’s easier for them if the world is paved, but I don’t think they have unfettered discretion even if the tree is below their power line.