Xcel leaves downed trees at Peak 7, angering Breckenridge residents | SummitDaily.com

Xcel leaves downed trees at Peak 7, angering Breckenridge residents

SUMMIT COUNTY – Peak 7 residents are upset that Xcel Energy is cutting trees and not hauling them away, but a spokesman for the utility company said it’s doing them a favor.

“What we’re removing here is by far dead – or soon to be dead – trees,” Xcel spokesman Mark Stutz said of the lodgepole pines infested with mountain pine beetles.

He said the utility isn’t required to clear the debris after trees are cut, and the residents eventually would have had to remove them anyway.

Peak 7 resident Gina Osborn said she and others are upset with Xcel’s communication to them. She said they received notice of the tree cutting in the winter, but “they never said, ‘You’re going to be responsible'” for removing the remains.

Neighbors are concerned that, left in the existing condition, the downed trees are a fire danger and could impact runoff flows. They’ve sent letters to Summit County Commissioners, Xcel and the Public Utilities Commission.

Assistant county manager Thad Noll said Thursday the county government is trying to mediate between the two parties. While the county ordinarily wouldn’t get involved, he said the number of complaints was high enough that it felt necessary to step in.

“We certainly recognize the importance of getting the work done,” he said. “The nature of the aftermath has been most concerning to people.”

On Thursday, Stutz said the situation had not changed.

“We’ve really done them a favor because they’d have to remove these trees anyway. What they’re going to have to do has in one sense started,” he said.

The tree cutting is part of a federal directive aimed at maintaining the power grid, he said. A tree tripped a transmission line in Ohio to cause the Northeast Blackout of 2003, with outages for several days in New York City and parts of Canada, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“We don’t want to have a situation that could cause an extended outage,” he said.

Stutz said the cutting under way in Peak 7 is likely to continue through the end of summer, since about 150 miles of distribution lines and 80 miles of transmission lines need maintenance.

He said there are hundreds of miles to be cleared in the next 20 years, and that the utility is allowed to clear anything with the “potential to fall into the right of way and hit a line.”

“I know it probably sounds harsh to some folks,” he said. “We cut (the trees) down and leave them there, but that’s the way it has always been done.”

He said the only exception is that sometimes with routine trimming, the contractors will take away what has been cut.

Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or rallen@summitdaily.com.

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