The combined efforts of communities, citizens, organized watch groups, politicians and others have resulted in a community-friendly law that better protects trees and citizens’ rights from unnecessary utility tree clearance. On August 2, 2001, Governor George Ryan signed into law House Bill 1776, now called Public Act 92-0214.
The simple filing of Illinois Power Company’s vegetation management tariff to the Illinois Commerce Commission ignited what was reported to be the largest response to suspend a tariff the Illinois Commerce Commission had experienced in recent decades. created a very strong watchdog group comprised of a diverse team of citizens and professionals across the state who intend to keep a watchful eye on utility vegetation management practices within Illinois.
But what does this new law do for the average citizen, community, or county? House Bill 1776 is legislation that reworks existing Illinois law to better protect the rights of citizens by requiring concise, nationally accepted, professional arboriculture standards for utility tree trimming. HB 1776 can be viewed on the Internet at the Illinois Legislation web site, under “legislation status and text”.
The new law includes specific tree-trimming performance standards and notification requirements that utilities must follow, and procedures for working in communities with or without utility tree trimming ordinances. It also designates the Illinois Commerce Commission as the authority to resolve disputes between electric utilities and municipalities. It protects individual property rights, and requires that notices of tree trimming sent out by utilities include toll-free numbers for use in contacting a utility representative and the Illinois Commerce Commission’s Consumer Affairs office. Public Act 92-0214 provides a much-improved level of municipal and county authority over utility tree trimming, while protecting the utility against theburden of significant cost increases for requested tree work that is contrary to nationally recognized standards.
Here are some highlights of the new law that detail these improvements:
- The law clarifies the standards for utility tree pruning. They are the most current tree care and maintenance standard practices, set forth in American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A-300. These are basic performance standards addressing tree pruning practices, and are clearly written to minimize misinterpretation. They are professional standards to be used and interpreted by professionals. They are not step-by-step illustrations on to how to prune trees, nor do they provide homeowners with specific clearance distances by which to judge utility tree trimming. The A-300 standards provide one standard that all arborists follow, and offer the best tool for community arborists to oversee utility, residential, commercial, and public tree pruning. Most communities follow the ANSI A-300 for their tree ordinances, tree pruning contracts, and tree pruning specifications. A very good supplement to the A-300 standards is the Tree Pruning Guidelines published by the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA). This publication is referred to in the ANSI A-300 standards, is clear and concise, and provides an excellent field training book for arborists. We hope to see the utilities adopt the ISA Tree Pruning Guidelines for a field crew reference and training manual.
- The law also clarifies the most current worker safety standards to be followed, those promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These standards detail safety procedures for workers to follow and mandatory approach distances that workers need to maintain from energized conductors. The mandatory approach distances define the minimum tree clearance distances from conductors that are essential to worker safety.
- Notification has been a common concern among citizens. Most people expressed dissatisfaction with insufficient advance warning, though there were also complaints of notices that arrived six months or more prior to the tree trimming. Under the new law,direct notice of vegetation management activities must be given by the utilities no fewer than twenty-one days and no more than 90 days in advance of the tree trimming. In addition, the notification requirements provide that utility customers must be notified directly, that property owners are to be notified by published notice in a local newspaper or newspapers, and that municipalities or counties must be furnished notification accompanied by circuit maps or common address descriptions of targeted areas. Direct or published notices are to include a statement of planned vegetation management activities, as well as both a web site address and a toll-free number where written disclosure of all dispute resolution opportunities and processes, rights, and remedies provided by the electric public utility may be obtained. Direct or published notices must also include a statement that the customer or property owner may appeal the planned vegetation management activities through the electric public utility or the Illinois Commerce Commission, and must provide toll-free numbers for each. Finally, these utility notices must state that circuit maps and common addresses of the affected areas will be on file at the designated municipality or county office.
- Communities may enter into franchises, contracts, or written agreements with the utility mandating specific vegetation management practices. This allows communities to extend their jurisdiction to address special needs or preferences of the community.But if a community mandates practices contrary to the most current arboriculture standards (ANSI A-300) that would result in a substantial cost increase to the utility, the utility is allowed to apply to the community for reimbursement of any additional costs. The burden of proof is on the utility, and the Illinois Commerce Commission provides dispute resolution. The community retains the ability to agree, reject, or initiate dispute resolution prior to any utility work. Communities may have their own trained arborists monitor and discuss with the utility forestry crews or their supervisors the utility’s vegetation management performance, without incurring any cost.
- There are exceptions to the new law and they are clearly stated. Exceptions to the general notice requirements or to local ordinance requirements are allowed for actions directly related to an emergency, for the purpose of restoring reliable service following an interruption of service. If agreements between local governments and utilities mandate specific notice requirements, then these local requirements would supersede state notice requirements. There are also exceptions to following the A-300 tree pruning standards if there exists a franchise, contract, or written agreement that mandates specific vegetation management practices. Specific agreements between local governments and utilities defining vegetation management practices are common in and around Chicago. These agreements are negotiated by each community, and sometimes vary greatly from one suburb to the next.
- As an appropriate ending, the new law states: “Vegetation management activities by an electric public utility shall not alter, trespass upon, or limit the rights of any property owner.”
Public Act 92-0214 may not address all utility tree-trimming concerns. It does provide some compromise between the opposing priorities of tree preservation and tree clearance, and it clarifies local and state authority. Communities with active tree management programs and arborists to oversee them will probably gain the most from the new law. However, community arborists or not, there are plenty of new requirements within the Act that will benefit citizens and correct past concerns.
Public Act 92-0214 is a considerable improvement over past utility tree-trimming regulations. But we still need to remain active and vigilant. There are yet many issues to be addressed. For example, in Urbana, I intend to create a heritage tree committeeto inventory and establish important trees in Urbana. If you are interested, please send me a
letter with your contact information.
Michael J. Brunk, Urbana City Arborist
address: Urbana City Arborist, 706 S. Glover Ave., Urbana, IL 61801