With poll: Judge tosses lawsuit, allowing power company to cut trees in Pittsfield Township neighborhood
A group of Pittsfield Township neighbors lost a legal battle to save dozens of trees along their properties from being cut by a power company.
Washtenaw County Circuit Judge Melinda Morris dismissed a lawsuit this week brought by 26 residents of Beech Drive to prevent International Transmission Holdings Corp. from removing several arborvitaes lining their backyards.
Morris initially set a trial date for Friday, but granted the power company’s request to throw the case out based on a prior ruling that firmly established ITC’s property rights.
The decision concludes a dispute that started late last fall when ITC blanketed the neighborhood with flyers indicating the trees must be cut to protect power lines that run above the tree line.
Art Aisner | For AnnArbor.com
The residents filed suit in February after several other attempts involving township government officials couldn't stop crews from cutting the trees. Morris issued a moratorium on cutting and ordered mediation. But the parties couldn’t reach an agreement in June, meaning the case was headed for a non-jury trial, court records show.
ITC, which received the property from DTE and owns the land on which the trees sit, argued the company must comply with federal mandates to keep power lines clear and safe from vegetation, and the trees are a potential hazard.
After Morris’ August ruling reaffirmed ITC’s property rights and discretion to cut, the company argued there was nothing left to settle at trial.
“The court’s ruling dismissing the homeowners’ complaint validates ITC’s easement rights and will help ensure that we can continue to maintain the safety and reliability of the transmission system,” said ITC spokesman Rob Darmanin.
The residents, many of whom planted the trees when they bought their properties decades ago, say the trees provide vital screening to homes on neighboring Helen Street. They also believe the trees are critical to maintaining property values and, if removed, will negatively change the character of the neighborhood. They, along with township officials, offered to maintain the trees to ensure they are at a safe distance from the lines during negotiations, but they were denied.
Attorney Walter Hamilton, who represented the neighbors, declined comment to AnnArbor.com, but in court documents accused ITC of having an arbitrary cutting policy that lacks regard for the property owners they impact.
He provided several examples using the current properties that show projected gaps between tree height and power line sag rates that are within federal standards for at least the next two decades.
It is unclear when the company will return with crews to begin cutting. But residents said they are prepared for the worst.
Some also said the ruling was expected, particularly after Morris’ earlier decision.
Still, many had hoped for their day in court. Cheryl Wasson, who hired an independent forester to inspect the trees adjoining her property, said there would have been expert testimony showing that the trees could be trimmed without killing them or causing them to be removed.
“That was really our whole point from the start, that they didn’t have to take such drastic action,” Wasson said. “They’re just bullies who don’t want to answer to anyone.”
Art Aisner is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at email@example.com or 734-623-2530.