Xcel to work with Breckenridge residents upset with leftover trees | SummitDaily.com

Xcel to work with Breckenridge residents upset with leftover trees

summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – As Xcel Energy cuts local trees to protect power lines, residents hope for cooperation in cleaning up the mess – similar to what was done in a Centennial neighborhood.

Many Peak 7 residents complained after trees near their homes and on U.S. forest land were cut and left on the ground.

“We’re still investigating the complaints right now,” Xcel spokesman Tom Henley said in a voicemail Friday. “Once we get the opportunity to conclude that investigation – which should be sometime soon – we’ll get back to each of the individual homeowners who’ve made those complaints.”

Xcel has previously said the utility company was doing residents a favor by cutting trees infected by the mountain pine beetle, and clearing the debris would be the property owner’s responsibility.

The locals are concerned the downed trees are a fire danger and could impact runoff flows.

Len Hoffius, an attorney from Blue River, said he’s filed an informal complaint regarding a potential violation of state regulations regarding customers’ safety and comfort. He’s prepared to file a formal complaint with the Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission.

“The town of Centennial took action and got Xcel to take down stumps to grade level and grind up (debris),” he said.

A Centennial homeowner’s association used lawyers to negotiate with Xcel, which led to the utility removing debris for one year, according to a story in the Denver Post in September.

But while a large number of the trees in Summit County would likely need to be cut due to infestation, many healthy trees and shrubs were removed in Centennial.

Because so many Peak 7 residents complained about how the utility handled the tree cuttings, the county government became involved to mediate.

Assistant county manager Thad Noll said there appears to be progress.

“They were very apologetic,” he said of the utility, “and very interested in working with homeowners.”

He said there has been no firm commitment on what Xcel would do, “but they did make a firm commitment to make it better.”

Noll said Xcel’s right to do the extensive cutting it conducted is limited, and there should have been better cooperation with property owners.

“In most places the easements are only 5 feet wide,” he said. “That’s why we told them, ‘You have limited to no authority to do what (you’re) doing.'”

Xcel has said that a federal directive authorizes such work to maintain the power grid.

“If there’s any trees in that area that are a threat to essentially fall into our equipment, we do have the authority to be able to go in and remove those – or trim them out if they need to be trimmed out,” Henley said Friday.

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.

Xcel has about 150 miles of distribution lines and 80 miles of transmission lines in the region that require maintenance – so the tree cutting is expected to continue at least through the summer, according to a previous report.

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

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