On Tuesday, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) announced a decision in the year long investigation of these practices. I'll go into the particulars of the decision in just a moment.
But, first, let me give hearty congratulations to Charlie Goodman, the only Citizen Lobbyist working the halls of the State Legislature, Jerry Baker, of Trader's Point, and all the others who formed the Indiana Tree Alliance, and systematically pursued the issue with the IURC. Their objections to the practices were not to the need for tree trimming when the trees pose a risk to power lines, but rather, to the over-reach of utilities, in particular Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL), in what amounted to a taking of private property. IPL claimed that they had the right to enter onto personal property to trim any tree it deemed in need of trimming - without any easement or permission of the property owner. They also exhibited a habit of trimming trees in ways that endangered the trees and did not in all cases, clean up the mess that the trimming created. You can visit the Alliance's website, http://www.indianatreealliance.com/ , for more details.
The IURC press release summarizes the 111 page order issued on Tuesday, November 30. Briefly, they determined that "Hoosiers would benefit from having consistency with regard to the rules and regulations surrounding tree-trimming practices and procedures". The Press Release goes on to say:
In its decision, the Commission stated that the utilities are required to adhere to nationally recognized best practices, as outlined by the ANSI A300 standards as well as other vegetation management guidelines detailed in the Order. For example, the utilities are now prohibited from "topping" trees or removing more than 25 percent of a tree's canopy without the property owner's consent. This decision stems from consumer complaints broached during the course of the proceeding. If the property owner does not consent, the utility must offer alternatives.
When contacting customers, the utilities must now provide notice in person or over the phone and provide at least one form of written notice to the customer. The initial notice should be no later than two weeks before the trimming is estimated to occur. In doing so, customers and utilities will have more time to discuss and resolve concerns. Further, once normal maintenance trimming is complete, the Commission finds that it is reasonable for the utility to have the debris promptly removed within three calendar days.
With regard to accessing property, utilities should use the public rights of way or easements. If the existing access points are insufficient, utilities either need to obtain such additional easements as necessary from the property owner, or obtain the consent of the property owner prior to trimming vegetation outside of the easement or right of way.
The major point that the Indiana Tree Alliance lost on, was the IURC decision that property owners may not hire their own tree professionals to do the trimming, but must rely upon the utilities.
The IURC will hold a 'technical conference' at 2:00 pm, December 15, to begin to craft new rules that will regulate the specifics of how Indiana utilities can trim trees on private property. They meet in room 220 of the PNC Center, which is on the southeast corner of Washington Street and Capital Avenue. The Indiana Tree Alliance is urging the public to attend to speak to what rules they would like to see created.