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Thursday, 17 November 2016 20:02

Utility faces new lawsuit to halt tree cutting in Geneva Township

Written by  Jonah Beleckis, Gazettextra
Clearing along County Highway H on Nov. 17, 2016 Clearing along County Highway H on Nov. 17, 2016 Terry Mayer/staff

ELKHORN -- American Transmission Company faces another lawsuit aimed at preventing the company from cutting trees in Geneva Township

An emergency motion for a temporary restraining order will be heard in Walworth County Court at 3 p.m. Monday, Nov. 21, 2016.

In October, Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital, owned by Yvonne and Steven Blane, filed suit to stop the utility from clear cutting a row of trees that protects the property.

ATC owns a utility easement for a power line at Fellow Mortals. ATC attorneys argued the company needed to trim or remove multiple trees to increase safety and service reliability.

However, Walworth County Judge Daniel Johnson ruled Oct. 13, 2016, that ATC could trim or remove trees near the Fellow Mortals Wildlife Hospital.

Since then, crews have been clearing trees along along the powerline route on Palmer Road. Property owners have expressed concern to the town board about the extent of the trimming.

The township lawsuit asks that ATC stop “cutting, trimming, removing or otherwise destroying any vegetation” along the ATC power line in the town of Geneva, according to the lawsuit filed Nov. 11. The main area in question is for an ATC line that runs from the intersection of County NN and Highway 12 to Palmer Road at Highway 67.

Town of Geneva Police Chief Steven Hurley wrote in an affidavit filed with the town's lawsuit that the town has issued citations to ATC for violating a town ordinance regulating tree removal. ATC refuses to comply, according to his affidavit.

The ordinance, No. 58, says a building permit from the town of Geneva building inspector is required before removing any trees or brush and prohibits clear-cutting trees with some exceptions, which still must be submitted to the building inspector.

Jackie Olson, an ATC spokeswoman, said in an email to The Gazette that ATC told local officials “on several occasions” the company believes the local ordinance does not apply to public utilities.

A letter from an ATC attorney to the town reads: “The (recent) court ruling (affirms) that ATC has the right to trim and remove trees within the area covered by ATC's easement."

In the same letter, the attorney wrote ATC “will not be 'clear cutting' properties, but rather trimming some trees and removing incompatible ones within our easement strip to keep our lines safe and reliable.”

ATC did not end up needing to remove vegetation from the entire easement width on the Blanes' property, so some vegetation will remain intact, according to the letter.

Olson said they would have no further comment because the lawsuit is still pending. Richard Torhorst, the attorney representing the town of Geneva, could not be reached for comment.

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