TVA clearing easements around power lines

Mountain Empire residents might soon see the Tennessee Valley Authority removing trees near major power lines.

In August 2003, a large section of the Northeast went dark during a major power outage. Fifty million people were without power, and the U.S. and Canada suffered $6 billion in economic losses.

A tree caused the power outage when it touched a power line, forcing regulatory agencies to look at tree-clearing efforts. The North American Electrical Reliability Corp. issued new rules on removing trees near major transmission lines in 2007.

When transmission lines were wired across the region, TVA purchased a 200-foot easement and cleared trees around them. The new rules require the agency to remove all vegetation.

“We are going to clear to the full extent of the easement,” TVA Manager Jason Regg said Thursday, when TVA took local media representatives on a helicopter tour of some of the local work and lines to educate residents about what is being done.

The agency has about 2,500 miles of transmission lines throughout the Southeast. On Thursday, a crew was using heavy equipment to clear trees under a major transmission line near Jonesborough, Tenn.

The agency has cleared about 500 miles of transmission lines and will continue to clear the easements until the entire system is completed. It will then implement a scheduled program to keep the easements clear.

Regg said the new program might be an inconvenience for homeowners. In the past, the agency has negotiated with some homeowners and let some trees in the easements remain. The new policy states that any tree that grows to a mature height of more than 15 feet will be removed.

“Across the board, through the whole system, we are applying the same standard,” Regg said.

The agency has been notifying property owners about the new policy and letting them know that the clearing will take place.

If the TVA does not follow the new rules, it can be fined $1 million per tree, authority officials said.

The agency had a tree touch a power line in 2010, and Rigg said TVA could be fined for the incident.

It costs between $10,000 and $12,000 a mile to implement the new tree-clearing policy.

Rigg said the agency might be required to clear the full easement on smaller lines in the future, but those regulations have not been finalized.