Clearing Rights-of-Way Benefits Reliability and Restoration Efforts

By Craig Reed

Power line in a forestWhen severe ice, snow, wind, or wildfire strikes Lane Electric Cooperative’s service territory, the work done previously along the corridors of the power and transmission lines is key.

Keeping ground growth under control, trimming overhanging branches, and taking down hazard trees lessen the possibility of more power outages and provide access for line crews to restore power.

Lane Electric has 1,579 miles of overhead power lines. The right-of-way width under these lines is generally 35 feet but might vary depending on voltage, terrain, and the cooperation of the members whose properties are near the lines.

The work to keep the line corridors clear is on a 3-year cycle, according to Skip Shipman, Lane Electric’s right-of-way coordinator for the past 5 years. Skip is also a certified arborist.

The work is contracted to West Lane Tree Service and Jensen Tree Service, with 12 workers on the job during the winter and up to 20 working during the warmer months. They work through all types of weather.

“All the clearing and mowing prior to the recent January ice storm made restoration quicker than it would have been,” Skip says. “Having our rights-of-way clear is a huge benefit when it comes to restoration time.”

Individual dead and rotting trees and branches outside the rights-of-way can be removed by the crews. Skip says most outages are caused by hazard trees that fall toward the lines from outside the rights-of-way corridors.

Clearing rights-of-way also helps provide defensible space for Lane Electric members in case of fire. Skip says co-op members are usually understanding and cooperative with clearing that might be needed on or near their properties.

Terry Sacket, the general foreman for the Jensen Tree Service crews, says the rights-of-way work is a necessity.

“If we didn’t provide this service, there wouldn’t be any power lines,” he says. “Once those lines are put up, you have to maintain the foliage around them or you eventually wouldn’t have any power. It’s important that the right-of-ways are maintained.”

Years ago, the work was mainly done by ground crews with chainsaws and tree climbers with saws. Those methods are still important, but machines have become more prevalent in doing the work. An excavator or skid steer with a masticator head— often called a cutting head—can saw, grind or chip trees and brush, leaving the chips behind.

Jensen owns and uses a Jarraff all-terrain tree trimmer that has a 75-foot boom with a saw on the end. With an operator in the machine’s cab, the Jarraff can reach out and up to bring down branches.

“That machine has gone through our entire system, all 1,500 miles,” Skip says. “It did a lot of work fast. It can trim a tree in a couple of minutes compared to an hour in the past. It’s a game changer.” Clearing by ground crews with chainsaws is still required in steep terrain and around power poles.

Brian Heyne, the foreman for the West Lane crews, describes the Jarraff as “really productive.”

“You can tell there’s a big difference in production when it is used,” he says. “But you still have to have ground crews come in behind it to knock down what it can’t get.” When there is an outage, the crews leave their rotational work and concentrate their efforts on restoring power. When the power is back on, the crews resume rights-of-way work.

“Restoring power to our members and getting it back on as soon as possible is very important to us,” Skip says.

Operating the equipment and saws in different terrain and weather conditions adds risks to the work, so safety is important. During outages, safety meetings every morning are common. No injury incidents were reported by crews during the January ice storm clean up and power restoration, despite “the horrible conditions we were working in,” Brian says.

“Safety is No. 1 because everyone has a family to go home to,” Terry says. Skip describes Lane Electric’s right-of-way as spectacular. “They’re in really good shape,” he says. “If anything, we’re ahead of schedule on our cycle.” The work is all about keeping the power on and getting it quickly restored when there are outages.