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Groups want to fell tree cutting, trimming bill

Groups that think green are seeing red over state Rep. Jack Franks’ proposal to give power companies the authority to cut down trees and other vegetation near power lines.

Although Franks, D-Marengo, said he has no intention of calling House Bill 3884 for a vote, local environmental groups are worried and angry about where the legislation might lead. The bill would allow power companies to cut down any tree or clear any vegetation within 20 feet of their lines if it is taller than 25 feet or has the potential to grow that high.

The bill would unnecessarily turn thousands of old trees into sawdust, environmental groups told a McHenry County Board committee recently.

Environmental Defenders of McHenry County President Nancy Schietzelt called the bill “a very ill-conceived notion” that is just as much about private property rights as it is about the environment.

Joining Schietzelt at Thursday’s meeting of the Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee were The Land Conservancy of McHenry County, the Fleming Road Alliance and the village of Bull Valley.

“This is truly a property rights issue,” Schietzelt said.

Franks said he filed the bill in response to powerful storms on July 11 that knocked out power to more than 1 million Chicago-area residents, some for almost a week. He specifically cited the village of McCullom Lake, which a Chicago Sun-Times analysis concluded spent more time without power in 2010 than any other community in Cook and the collar counties.

He said the strict language of the bill was an effort to get the attention of the Illinois Municipal League, which he said he could not get to talk about the issue. Franks said responsible tree-trimming would have helped diminish what he called the “trampling” that power consumers took in the storms.

“What I want to do is allow that if a tree grows 60 feet wide and 60 feet tall, to allow [workers] to trim these,” Franks said. “It’s not going to be cutting trees out 20 feet on either side of the line. That’s not going to happen.”

Under the bill, all shade trees sold in Illinois that are expected to grow higher than 25 feet would have to carry a label advising the buyer that the tree can be removed if it is planted within 20 feet of a power pole or wire.

The bill was discussed last week by the House Public Utilities Committee.

Still, local environmental groups are concerned about the future. The land conservancy said the bill as now written “has the potential to literally destroy the character of communities by giving the power companies the right to remove trees that they deem a hazard.”

“Even though this bill isn’t going to move forward ... Rep. Franks is intent on moving the issue forward with giving electric utilities more leeway on how they manage trees,” conservancy Executive Director Lisa Haderlein said.

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