Tree Trimming

December 22, 2003
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On Aug. 14, contact between power lines and a tree in Ohio started a 6-minute cascading blackout from New York to Detroit that for days deprived 50 million Canadian and American citizens of power.

Among those whom the largest power outage in national history afflicted were 6 million Michigan citizens and an unknown number of Michigan employers.

The Michigan Public Service Commission says it's concerned. MPSC's concern is so great that a mere five months after the fact — Dec. 9, to be exact — it took what it called "an important step."

To prevent branch-induced blackouts in Michigan, MPSC says it imposed an order upon Consumers Energy, Detroit Edison and other investor-owned utilities.

They have until April Fools' Day to file reports about their, um, tree-trimming practices.

Yep.

The order requires " … a comprehensive description of all action taken during calendar year 2003 to trim vegetation away from power lines, frequency of trimming practices, efforts to focus on particular problem areas, plans for future trimming, finances devoted to vegetation trimming activity in calendar year 2003 and over the past five years."

Ooooo-RAH!

J. Peter Lark, MPSC chairman, explained that, "With these reports, the commission will get a comprehensive understanding of what Michigan's investor-owned electric utilities and transmission companies are doing to keep power lines clear of trees to make sure their customers' power stays on." Shouldn't take more than another five, six months.

So … we can all go about our lives with lighter hearts?

Well, yes, the understanding that the MPSC seeks will be a just a wee bit late for 20,000 West Michigan residents who went through a two-day blackout of their own this autumn. A hard west wind knocked trees and tree limbs onto power lines and prompted yet another run on portable generators at Sears and Menards. Candles sold briskly, too.

Consumers Energy spokesmen — Roger Morgenstern, of Muskegon's B.C. Cobb Plant — said that after the blackout, municipal officials and frustrated homeowners demanded to know why Consumers doesn't bury its transmission lines.

Morgenstern — also a frustrated homeowner (his Norton Shores residence was without power for 44 hours) — said that per state law, Consumers for years has installed subterranean power lines in all new subdivisions. But those lines carry no power if trees sever the power grid in older parts of town.

He said he believed it would be prohibitively expensive for Consumers to bury power lines in old neighborhoods.

"And there's one other thing," he added.

"You don't have as many line breaks with underground electrical cables," he said. "But when you do, finding the break and repairing it takes a lot longer than when a tree falls across a line."

  • It is peppered with "ifs" and "whens" and expectations that the decisions that have stalled for half a dozen years now will be made in the confines of four meetings within the first four months of 2004.

It's the zoo and it's the issue that really does go "boo." Kent County voters will be asked to determine support for a millage next year (time to be determined by all the other necessary millage issues) to fund a move from the city to 'burbs, where FredMeijer has generously offered property to help resolve the inability of the zoo crew to expand the attraction within the confines of its West Side neighborhood. But the city and county hope to have a "plan" mapped out for the existing property "if" and "when" the zoo becomes a suburban wildlife park, in the midst of another neighborhood unhappy with the prospect.

The millage may not be a happy proposition, either, given budding suburban mayoral opposition most candidly declared by Kentwood Mayor Richard Root. Given the whacks to be further suffered in revenue sharing and depleted local government funds, the mayors ask how they would advocate for a county-wide millage for a wildlife park when they may indeed need millage money for things like firefighters and police.

West Sider and City Commish Roy Schmidt gets to "lead the charge" for the committee of 17 making plans and final decisions (in that order).

Four meetings to determine a best use of the current facility (should the zoo move)? Some things just find automatic agreement, especially if one considers the power of promised funding by any of the memorialized business leaders in Grand Rapids. One could speculate that the "opportunity" of vacated property contingent to Millennium Park could be best used by a plan already drawn with no place to go. That would be the long-hushed discussion of a "fine arts" theater, now gaining general community knowledge as an amphitheater.

Could two problems be solved in the midst of a budget crisis, and how much will county residents pay? It appears the answers will come soon after the first of the year.

  • If there are fewer nuts and chocolates around the office this holiday season, don't think your firm has dropped off the appreciation list of some of your vendors and suppliers.

More and more frequently, local firms are eschewing the traditional holiday goodies for making donations to charity in the name of your business.

The Business Journal has received at least half a dozen such cards this holiday season.

"As 2003 comes to a close, it's time for all of us to pause and think about the things we have to be thankful for," said BillBussey, a vice president at Grubb&Ellis/Paramount. "It's a good time to remember those who are less fortunate or who have special needs and to do what we can to help."

So the commercial real estate broker is sending donations to Paralyzed Veterans, Disabled American Veterans, Public Broadcasting, Amnesty International, In The Image, Mel Trotter Mission and Heifer International.

And without the nuts and chocolates, the usual recipients are less likely to become members of the latter charity.    

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