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Tree removal upsets residents

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One Woodbury neighborhood took on a new appearance last week, after several trees were removed. 

Several residents in the Courtly Drive and Copper Cliff Trail section of Woodbury lost trees after Xcel Energy ordered the trees removed. Located under two power lines — one, a double 15,000-volt line, the other a 230,000-volt line — the trees were in the easement owned by Xcel. 

But the trees were also part of yards, and had been, for the residents there, for as long as the homes had yards. That’s part of the reason Ken and Sonja Sitzman bought their home in the neighborhood. 

“We bought this lot because of the trees,” Sonja Sitzman said. “You’re attached to the trees because they’re a part of your yard. But now I don’t even want to live here anymore. I don’t want to live here anymore.”

The Sitzmans have lost a dozen trees during the past two decades. The last six were taken as part of last week’s removal. But as large and established as they were, the trees were also reaching a height where they were growing too close to the powerlines overhead. And that’s why the trees had to come down.

“We have an easement in place, and we have the ability to remove any species of trees that are in the easement. The safety and the electrical integrity of the transmission line is our priority,” said Xcel Energy Supervisor of Vegetation Management Brad Weidenfeller. “These were spruce trees capable of reaching 60 feet.”

Xcel Energy maintains about 5,000 miles of transmission line around the state, so the company has established a four-year cycle to review the vegetation in its easements, and remove that vegetation when necessary, Weidenfeller said. 

The Sitzmans lost their first trees in one of those previous cycles. At the time, they were provided with a list of trees that can be planted — ones that grew wide, rather than high — in the easements. They did plant a few new trees, Ken Sitzman said, but most of the newer trees didn’t take, and have since died. At the same time, they are left with stumps that have not been removed, and an underground root system that seems to be thwarting the growth of the newer trees. 

While Xcel will pay for a contractor to remove the trees, and will take the debris away, the company does not pay for tree replacement or the stump removal. 

“That compensation was taken back at the time of the easement,” Weidenfeller said. “We paid for the rights to buildings, tree removal and so on. That was all at the time of the taking for those transmission lines, and those lines go back to the 1960s and 1970s.”

When the Sitzmans bought their home 20 years ago, they had no idea part of their property is in an easement, and that the trees in their yard would one day be taken from them. It wasn’t until a few years later, Sonja Sitzman said, when they were first told that they would have to lose some trees in their yard. 

“It was beautiful back there,” she recalls, “but they don’t tell you they can come out and cut down your trees whenever they want.”

The easement, Weidenfeller said, should have been listed on the property title and made available to the residents when they purchased their homes. And Xcel does reach out to residents as part of that four-year cycle. When possible, the company works with the landowner to maintain trees.

But that isn’t always possible, which is a frustration for Ken Sitzman. He questions why the trees weren’t trimmed more often, rather than being allowed to grow. The answer, Weidenfeller said, is that the company can only service so much along that 5,000-mile line in any one year. That’s another reason Xcel has its four-year rotation in place. 

Weidenfeller said he has talked with the Sitzmans and their neighbors on several occasions in the past, as well as this year. Some of the neighbors knew their trees had to come down, and accepted that fact, even though they’ve said they will miss those trees. 

“If we didn’t have to remove the trees, we wouldn’t, but the safety of the public is just too great,” he said. 

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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