By KARLA POMEROY
Big Horn Rural Electric is in the process of removing 27 cottonwood trees on Wyoming Retirement Center property in order to reconstruct the new power line.
REA General Manager Jeff Umphlett said, “When it comes to power outages trees are usually a factor.” As such, over the last few years, REA has been aggressively removing trees from its rights-of-way. It has helped cut down on the number of outages, he said.
Big Horn REA’s current project is reconstructing two miles of lines that provide power to the town of Basin’s south substation and further on to the Torchlight Oil Field. “These are pretty critical lines,” Umphlett said.
As such, they began looking at the trees along the routes of the lines and the trees on the east and west ends concerned the electric company. He said initially the Wyoming Retirement Center employees thought the trees were only about 30 years old but a tree risk assessment was completed by Big Horn Horticulture of Cody and the trees are now estimated at 65 years and photos confirm they are about that old.
“They are close to reaching their life material and probably would be coming down in the next few years,” Umplett said. He discussed options with then WRC Administrator Anita Cox-Mills, including having REA cut down the trees and remove the stumps or trim the trees and then putting the onerous for maintainance and future trimming on the WRC. He said the REA did not want the liability if the trees fell onto the power lines and caused outages or started a fire.
The state of Wyoming also did not want that liability and eventually an agreement was reached for REA to remove the trees necessary to complete their project and ensure the safety of the power lines. He said some trees and shrubbery across the road on private property will also likely have to be removed.
Big Horn REA is paying for the removal of the trees, Umphlett said, adding that the company they have hired is grinding up the stumps to fill in the holes where the trees stood.
He said a few of the trees on the west end that have been cut down already have shown signs of decay.
“Our job is to provide reliable power and trees and power lines don’t mix,” Umphlett said.