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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wholesale Utility tree destruction or clear cutting on Kensington prompts outrage from Bloomfield Township Supervisor Leo Savoie. City offers only acquiescence.

Of the two reactions, the former is probably what sent Attorneys from both communities  (they are represented  by the same law firm) to Court to prevent  further cutting until the matter could be discussed.

The December  19th 2014  edition of the Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle headlined  Residents upset about  DTE Tree Trimming

The  Eagle reported that  Bloomfield Township Supervisor  Leo Savoie told  Township residents  by email that "the way they (DTE ) went about it  is was completely unacceptable. We are going to stop (the cutting) until we meet (with DTE),  and set up a plan. We can notify homeowners what that plan is and we can identify  what is going on so  do everybody can understand  what is going on so everybody  can understand  the scope of the project.

City of Bloomfield Hills residents received no information other than what was published in various community newspapers. City Manager  Jay Cravens  reportedly s took solace in the fact that  DTE "voluntarily"  agreed to suspend cutting  until matters could be reviewed further.. Cravens also told  the Eagle that "in coming weeks  we will talk  DTE about re-vegetation  and reforestation plans for the affected area,

 Cravens later told this publication that DTE was not bound  by City's Woodland Tree ordinance.

Mayor Dul corresponded to the Eagle by email  saying,  "With the idea of preventing  future power outages DTE is taking on  a program to remove all trees in their public right of ways. When mature hardwoods are clear cut, I as citizen, mayor, and landscape architect, feel their (DTE) approach is extreme. As and independent utility (DTE) we don't  have control over their initiative.

Pehaps not but a little outrage might help. DTE spends many  dollars advertising and emphasizing that they are a partner, caring friend, and valuable resource of the communities they serve.

 In fact  DTE is or was currently working with City Manager Cravens  and City Commisioner Michael Coakley in determining ways to prevent power outages in the City  by burying power lines. According to City Manager Cravens the only hold up on that project is cost.

 DTE spokesperson was quoted in the Eagle edition of  December 19th  as " saying they were responding to complaints about service reliability from both customers and local officials as well as the Michigan  Public Service Commission who as a result of the ice storm last winter (2013) directed us to be a lot more aggressive with  tree trimming. While we make every effort to  work with our customers right now we are no longer no asking permission. It is  totally different approach to laying clearance but it is something that is needed to provide our customers with reliable electric service." 

If  Holiday activities  resulted in your missing   the December 19h edition of the Eagle, The front page article   can be readt by clicking on Residents upset about DTW tree trimming
The article  is written by  Tiffany Esshaki   Cand G staff writer.

  1. The Eccentric Newspaper in a December 22nd editorial titled Public should have had  its say before trees fell  wrote .... 

That scenario played out following a Dec. 21-22, 2013, ice storm that caused an estimated 600,000 residents to lose power – some for several days.
The Michigan Public Service Commission held hearings about the storm, in the hopes of preventing major outages in the future. Among the orders that came out of a Dec.n (2014) meeting in Lansing was the following:
“Consumers Energy Company and DTE Electric Company shall develop a hazardous tree removal program in 2015, addressing trees that are outside of the right-of-way. This program shall be incorporated into their normal vegetation management programs, and shall be included in any future electric rate case application.”
It didn't take long for crews working on behalf of DTE to sharped the chain saws and carry out the order.

The destruction of so many mature trees is a disgrace. Even worse is the poor communication on the part of DTE to local officials and residents preceding the carnage.
If residents and public officials had any notion of the scope of work that was in the works, they would have protested vehemently and called for a series of local public meetings before trees were cut down.
Local public meetings with DTE should have been part of the process all along. Going forward, there has to be a better solution than clear cutting. The option of paying a special assessment to bury the wires under ground wasn't put to residents, many of whom may have preferred spending thousands of dollars each to dig a whole rather than see the trees chopped down. In failing to explore options with local residents, DTE failed in its primary mission of serving the public.
Going forward, every tree that can be saved should be and nothing less will read editorial in it's entirety click here

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 Downtown Birmingham Bloomfield Hills  in a December 19th article published in their on line editionn  titled Tree Clearing  Concerns residents and Officials, states that DTE  hired Davey Tree to do the tree cutting and reported that as many as 20 Davey Tree trucks could be seen in the area of Kensington Road the day of the cutting. A photograph  accompanying the article shows  many  of such work vehicles in the background.  The photograph  in the Downtown Publications article may be enlarged by clicking on it.
To see the picture and to read the article in its entirety by News Editor Lisa Brody  Click here.  Extras that come with article include the ability to  share the article with  friends  via  email,  a variety of programs, or print it.
Downtown reported  that  Joe Robinson, part of the vegetation management team for DTE on site on Kensington Road, said the tree clear cutting was a very targeted plan based on nine power outages the area had experienced in 2014. "It was one of the worst-performing areas we had, and we are marking the most unreliable areas with over-line corridor trimming or removal," Robinson said. "This will continue for trees within the corridor."

City of Bloomfield Hills Manager  Jay Cravens  told Downtown Publications   that the City had been working with DTE for several months, through  mid-November, about outages in the area "We had been interested in meeting with them to have other options like raising power lines above the trees, or burying lines, where feasible," Cravens said.

Cravens  said DTE received a directive from Michigan public works officials to clean their right of ways, " and they got this directive, and a couple of days before they started, I got a call from Robinson. It appears this operation was ground-to-sky; everything from ground-to-sky was removed. A crab apple tree is not going to get in the way of lines. There was a distinct disconnect between the contractor and DTE."Cravens added.
"I think they (DTE) acted a little too quickly, and if they had mapped the area a little bit better, the results would have been better," Cravens said. "It's like thumbing their nose at people."

The Fall issue of  Hills Highlights, the official newsletter of the City of Bloomfield Hills arrived in the mail boxes of City residents shortly before the 2014 November election.  The newsletter's format  consists of articles written by City Commissioners and other City officials on matters they are working on. The de facto editor is  City  manager Jay Cravens.  On page 5 in an article  written by  City Commissioner Michael Coakley. The commissioner  discusses the City's focus on the infrastructure.  He writes "City Management, and the (City) Commission are teaming up with DTE executives  in a pilot program project  aimed at improving power delivery and reducing  the number  and severity of power outages in the City."

   Commisioner Coakley continued with, "In  the coming  weeks Jay Cravens  and I will be conducting with DTE executives a field study of DTE transition infrastructure  and the physical constraints and challenges  posed by our  traditionally bucolic environment. We will be looking at husbandry  and technical solutions  in improving the power infrastructure in the City to deliver power with consistency and readability, commensurate  with  the living standards expected for Bloomfield Hills. DTE is being pro- active with us in this initiative which we appreciate.  We look forward to working with DTE on this important pilot project.

Unfortunately . for the optimistic  Commissioner Coakley. There were other forces at work.  When the proactive DTE  arrived  in town shortly before the Christmas Holidays the rules had changed. No one asking for permission or considering other alternatives.

Back issues of the Hills Highlights are usually archived on the City Web site but the one referenced above from last October has not appeared there yet. The publication of the first edition of the Hills Highlights for 2015,  spoken of at the January City commission meeting, as imminent, has yet to appear. It was expected  to shed further light on what City Manager Cravens calls the "The Tragedy on Kensington ".
  In conversations with this publication and other media Cravens  has stated that burying the utility lines is a beyond the annual 9 million dollars of the City Budget. DTE has also  described it as a  expensive proposition that may not be a guaranteed solution. 

Underground lines can and do break which is why residents are advised to call Miss Dig before they dig.

Cravens suggested two  possible solutions both of which would have residents paying for burying utility lines. The first is a special assessment which is also known as a Special Assessment District or SAD.  Here a street or neighborhood band together to pay the bill for their turf alone. SADs are quite popular in the township where they are used for road repair.  Cravens however seemed to favor a second alternative which would be a surcharge by the utility, placed on everyone's monthly bill.

One wonders what the amount would be and for what period of time. One also wonders how necessary, residents many of whom have purchased generators. would find this matter. The storm that created Kensington tragedy occurred in December of 2013.

The City of Bloomfield Hills suffers from another ailment city commission has yet to address. Perhaps because it is one of the City's more desirable features. That is low population density.  Our city with 3800 residents occupies more land than the City of Birmingham with 20,000 people. When the lights go out  whose gets fixed first ?

At the last City Commission meeting  the once optimistic  Commisioner Coakley sounded less than enthused when he said "There is no way around it. you can  have reliable power or you can have trees and vines but you can't have both."

Commissioner Scheer who lives close to area  effected said   utility companies  generally have a large leeway when it comes to protecting their equipment, and that it would be be difficult, to challenge DTE on a legal basis unless  the company  had trimmed vegetation outside the 30 foot easement.He would however ask DTE to reconsider the Ground to SKY initiative  

But not everyone is just asking and it if anything happens to improve the situation it may be  is for that reason. 

As a result of  a  conversation With city resident  Geoffrey Fieger, Commisioner Hardy,  told the Eccentric  that Mr. Fieger mentioned he would like to get involved with the matter.
Last week it was reported by many media  that Fieger had filed a $54 million dollar lawsuit against DTE. The Dollar amount  is reported to be the same amount DTE is paying to Davey Tree for Ground to Sky Tree removal. Some  homeowners whose property was effected say they are participating in the lawsuit  because they have not been contacted by DTE.

 The January 18th  Eccentric stated that DTE would  begin cutting again in February. Attorney Fieger does not believe that will happen.

 The Eccentric reports that DTE ,Supervisor Savoie ,and City Manager Cravens are expected to meet with in February to discuss possible line burial.

 Last but not least the DTE is still reaching out to the communities it serves by organizing field trip for elected officials.

That is what Commissioner Coakley, presented as a pro active break through  five months ago.

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