Lake Elmo man fights Xcel Energy to keep family tree

8:16 AM, Feb 19, 2013   |    comments
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LAKE ELMO, Minn. -- For four generations, Darrell Hanson's family made a living on a 30-acre farm in Lake Elmo. He says he is connected to each acre, but it's the giant blue oak tree his great grandparents spared when they started farming that brings him to tears.

"There's a pond back there, and they left it there for the cattle for shade. Growing up it was special to us. We had picnics under the tree so it's very sentimental to us," Hanson said.

This used to be a place that brought him joy, but last week a note from Xcel Energy changed everything.

"They sent a postcard and mentioned cutting the trees down, and I sort of ignored it until I got the phone call that they asked if I received the post card and they were going to cut it down," he said.

In addition to the blue oak, three other trees are also on the chopping block because they interfere with transmission lines, according to Laura McCarten, Xcel Energy Regional Vice President.

"I really do understand how hard this can be for the customers," she said.

Generally lines require 30 to 50 feet of clearance, but in some cases it's safer to remove all vegetation completely, McCarten said.

"The reason we do that is one of the leading causes to outages to our customers is when a tree branch or tree interferes with a power line. So, that's why it's so important that we get in there regularly and clear around the power line," she said.

Stricter federal laws also require power companies to keep lines clear. In August of 2003, a major power outage paralyzed the East Coast and parts of Canada because a tree came in contact with a transmission line. Since then the North American Electric Reliability Corporation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has required a minimum distance between lines and vegetation.

Xcel expects to decide later this week whether those trees will be trimmed or removed.

Hanson is the first to admit he's in a battle he may not win, but says he won't stop trying

"If I were younger I might climb up there and tie myself to the tree. I thought of tying yellow ribbons around it so to get some kind of message across that this is important," Hanson said.

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