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Thursday, 16 June 2016 10:43

Fellow Mortals wildlife hospital, utility at odds over tree cutting

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Trees surround birds as they recover at Fellow Mortals in the town of Geneva. The founders of the wildlife hospital oppose a plan by American Transmission Co. to clear trees and undergrowth on an easement on the nonprofit’s property. Fellow Mortals maintains that ATC needs a permit from the town before the clearing work can begin. Trees surround birds as they recover at Fellow Mortals in the town of Geneva. The founders of the wildlife hospital oppose a plan by American Transmission Co. to clear trees and undergrowth on an easement on the nonprofit’s property. Fellow Mortals maintains that ATC needs a permit from the town before the clearing work can begin. File photo by Terry Mayer/staff

TOWN OF GENEVA -- Founders of a nonprofit group that takes care of injured and orphaned animals are worried about providing security for their animals if a company goes through with plans for cutting down trees near the property.

American Transmission Co. plans to clear trees and undergrowth in an easement within Fellow Mortals Inc., W4632 Palmer Road. ATC owns a 7.8-mile transmission between Elkhorn and Lake Geneva that includes an easement near Fellow Mortals.

The tree-trimming work was set to begin Monday, June 20, but Fellow Mortals announced on its website last week that the town of Geneva ruled that the company must obtain permits before cutting the trees.

Representatives from ATC said the company is working with the town regarding the permit issue.

"Legal representatives from ATC and the town of Geneva are in discussion about the applicability of the town of Geneva ordinances regarding tree cutting," Alissa Braatz, ATC corporate communications representative, said in a statement. "ATC has pointed out that the town’s ordinance clearly states -- consistent with state law --  that public utilities like ATC are exempt from obtaining a permit to cut trees."

Joseph Kopecky, town of Geneva Board chair, said someone has to obtain a permit if they want to clear cut trees in the town of Geneva.

"We do allow for maintenance such as tree trimming, but we don't allow for clear cutting except for special projects, such as building a house," Kopecky said Wednesday. "Other than that, they have to get a permit from the plan commission."

Yvonne Wallace Blane, co-founder of Fellow Mortals, said that she’s been told that the ordinance states that a permit is needed to clear cut trees in the town of Geneva, even for a public utility company.

"We’re relieved if that’s the case," Blane said. "That would mean the trees would be protected in the town of Geneva."

Yvonne Wallace Blane, co-founder of Fellow Mortals, said the trees provide a buffer between the animal hospital and Palmer Road. Blane said removing the trees could affect the safety of the animals that are treated at the hospital, as well as wildlife that lives in that area.

"When we purchased the property, we wanted a buffer from the road and the noise," Blane said. "A lot of people drive on Palmer Road. The whole point is to prevent the animals from becoming stressed. If the trees are gone, not only will it affect the animals we rehabilitate, but the animals that live in the natural area.

"There’s a spruce tree on the property that’s a hundred years old, and it’s been a safe sanctuary for birds and squirrels."

Blane started an online petition to save the trees, which was signed by more than 80,000 people. She also sent a petition to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Gov. Scott Walker.

"We’re going to keep (the petition) going. The comments have been heart warming," Blane said.

ATC said the trees in that area need to be removed because of potential safety concerns.

"Electricity is unforgiving. Public safety and that of crews working near our facilities is ATC’s most important priority as we work to minimize any and all potential hazards at all voltage levels on our system," Braatz said in the statement. "A right-of-way free of incompatible, tall-growing vegetation helps ATC meet its obligation to maintain adequate clearances on all of our transmission lines, which ensures the safety of the public and the reliability of the electric transmission system."

Blane said they have talked with representatives from ATC about trimming the trees instead of removing them.

Representatives from ATC said in a statement that trimming is not possible because of the size of some of the trees and because they are close to some of the power lines.

ATC officials said they have worked on a plan to develop landscaping that would act as a buffer between Fellow Mortals and Palmer Road.

Blane said no other structure could provide the security that the trees offer.

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