Storms hit Central Pennsylvania with alarming ferocity – blocking roads and felling trees. But when a tree falls on area utility lines, who is responsible to remove them?
“What do you do, wait till it pulls the line down? Which doesn’t make a lick of sense,” said Lanny Wertz, roadmaster and township supervisor for Clinton Township.
Each morning after a storm, Wetz drives the roughly 25 miles of road throughout the township looking for felled trees. He has lived in the township his entire life and knows about 90 percent of its residents – most of whom have his cellphone number.
A fallen tree won’t last much more than a day before Wertz finds out about it.
Clinton Township has struggled with the trees-on-wires issue for many years, and each year it seems to grow worse, Wertz said. He added the issue is exacerbated by the rapid death of ash trees in the region, degrading their root systems and causing them to fall over at a higher rate.
“If you have a bad thunderstorm, you have a lot of wind,” Wertz said. “With all this rain, the root system on good trees is saturated.”
Not all utility wires are the same. Some are owned by the power company, some by the phone company and some by internet companies, each of which have a different process for dealing with trees leaning on wires.
Clinton Township sees about a dozen trees fall on wires throughout the year and if they aren’t PPL lines then, by default, it’s up to the township to take care of them, Wertz said. This is because the internet and phone companies will not remove trees leaning on wires, he said.
The internet companies will wait until the trees break the line before coming out to repair it, Wertz said.
“We take them down because of the safety factor of it,” he said. “We’re just concerned about the tree coming down on someone as they drive by.”
Clinton Township hired Penn Line as a tree removal service and pays them $220 per hour to remove trees along the roadway, including on wires. Wertz said it’s a cost they shouldn’t have to pay, but it’s worth it to make sure the roads are clear.
According to PPL, the utility company has a robust vegetation management program “designed to keep lines clear and help minimize outages from trees, which are the top cause of storm-related power outages.”
“We sometimes find the tree is on cable or communications lines that are attached to our poles,” said Tracie Logue-Witter, of PPL. “In those cases, we notify the appropriate company that owns that line or lines and request they remove the tree.”
For safety reasons, cable or phone lines are attached well below power lines on a pole,” Logue-Witter said.
To contact PPL about trees on wires call 1-800-342-5775. If it is not a PPL line, Wertz suggested residents contact the municipal office about tree issues.