UPDATE: KU tree cutting moratorium extended in Lexington
City continues its pause of legal action against the utility company
UPDATE POSTED 10:40 P.M., JANUARY 31, 2022:
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – A moratorium on tree cutting under Lexington transmission lines by Kentucky Utilities (KU) has been extended as the city continues its talks with the utility company, according to city spokeswoman Susan Straub. The moratorium was set to expire in mid-January.
The two sides agreed to a temporary moratorium in early December following protests by people in the Lansdowne neighborhood, which resulted in the arrest of one woman who was protesting the company’s practice of clear-cutting trees over 15-feet under transmission lines.
The city filed a complaint with the Kentucky Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. The city also filed a civil lawsuit against the utility company over its clear-cutting practices.
As part of the ongoing moratorium, the city paused its legal actions against KU.
The utility company says the tree cutting practice is necessary to reduce the risk of trees and limbs taking down power lines and knocking out power. The city and many of its residents claim KU has clear-cut trees that were too small to endanger power lines.
Nancy Albright, the city’s commissioner of environmental quality and public works, has had initial meetings with KU over its tree cutting practices, according to the city. No talks have been scheduled yet for February, according to city spokeswoman Susan Straub.
The city has been battling KU over its tree cutting policies since 2020.
UPDATE POSTED 5:15 P.M., DEC. 1, 2021
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – As promised, the city of Lexington went to court Wednesday evening to try to block Kentucky Utilities from continuing its practice of clear-cutting trees over 15 feet tall along the utility’s transmission lines in the city (Click to read Verified Complaint LFUCG KU (01571695xA9D25).
The suit claims the utility should be blocked temporarily and permanently from its clear-cutting practices because it is an “unlawful use” of easements and rights-of-way and until the utility addresses environmental concerns caused by the clear-cutting.
No hearing date has been set in Fayette County Circuit Court.
UPDATE POSTED DECEMBER 1, 2021 AT 4:02 P.M.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Kentucky Utilities has agreed to a compromise over its tree cutting practices after a second protest by people in the Lansdowne neighborhood along with the mayor, who negotiated with KU on behalf of the protesters.
Concerned citizens and those living in the Lansdowne neighborhood were back out in full force Wednesday morning trying to stop KU’s tree cutting.
At one point, Lexington Police told protesters that they would need to move back or face getting arrested and taken away in a paddy wagon. No one was arrested, but everyone anxiously awaited the arrival of Mayor Linda Gorton who came to talk with KU about modifying its approach.
“Today and tomorrow and I don’t know how long this will last, but they are going to modify their cutting,” said Mayor Gorton. “And they are going to cut only the largest threatening trees.”
On Tuesday, the city announced it would file a complaint with the state Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities, and file for an injunction in court to stop KU from clear cutting trees – the mayor says to get all sides talking again.
“KU is very interested in sitting at the table again,” Mayor Gorton stated. “That is really what the letter to the PSC and filing the injunction will help us with as an opportunity to pause and get to the table and have more conversation.”
Even though the KU contractors drove away and the utility says it’s willing to sit down again with the city, activists are still uncertain about how Wednesday’s compromise will affect the long-term solution.
“For today, it’s a good step,” said Margaret Sumney, a Lansdowne neighbor and tree activist. “I think KU has a lot of questions still to answer about the way that they treat community members and also their policies regarding tree trimming and cutting in Lexington. I think there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done. But, we are pleased with the outcome of today.”
KU maintains that the trees are being cut to keep them from taking down power lines and knocking out electricity.
ORIGINAL STORY POSTED NOVEMBER 30, 2021 AT 5:15 P.M.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Mayor Linda Gorton asked the Urban County Council to take a strong stand Tuesday against Kentucky Utilities and its decision to clear-cut trees near transmission lines in Lexington.
The Council gave initial approval to Gorton’s plan to file a formal complaint with the Kentucky Public Service Commission concerning Kentucky Utilities’ actions, and to seek immediate relief by asking the courts to impose an injunction to stop the chain saws.
Gorton said the complaint and injunction are being prepared, and will be filed as soon as possible.
“Over the past year we have been working with KU to try to find a way forward that protects our trees and our electric grid because clearly both are important,” Gorton said. “Sadly, the company has not shown our city respect in return. With few exceptions they have ignored our requests. Yesterday, the company again started cutting down trees indiscriminately. Trees that could not possibly interfere with transmission lines.”
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said, “It’s unfortunate that an important corporate citizen is unwilling to listen to the clear concerns of the community it exists to serve. As a Council we have been committed to improving our environment. This is a real setback.”
KU is applying the same clear-cutting practices it uses in more rural areas, where there are acres of trees, to Lexington neighborhoods. “That makes no sense. We have worked hard and invested resources to build a tree canopy. Trees are important to our city. Lexington has been a Tree City USA for 33 years. Trees help control stormwater, improve air quality, provide shade and enhance our neighborhoods.”
The city does not have the power to stop KU from cutting down trees, Gorton said. “We are talking to our legislators, asking them to pass new legislation that will force the utility to work with us.” In the meantime we are hoping to find some relief from the courts.”