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Helicopters utilized to trim trees close to power lines

Photo submitted to Times Observer A helicopter from Rotorblade trims trees for Warren Electric Cooperative in the area of Yankee Bush Road in April.

Helicopters do many jobs.

From transporting people, to dropping water on fires and pesticides on bugs, to pruning.

This week a helicopter worker with Warren Electric Cooperative has been out trimming trees that are too close to power lines.

There are also ground-based crews trimming.

It’s an important task.

“We trim 20 percent of our right-of-way every year,” Warren Electric CEO Matt Franklin said. “Trimming trees along the right-of-way not only improves reliability and reduces outages, but it is also an important safety measure. A majority of the power lines running throughout our region are not insulated. This means if a tree branch makes contact with our power lines, that tree becomes a path to ground. If someone was in proximity of that tree at that time, they could be electrocuted.”

Although trimming is necessary, it is not always popular with residents.

Franklin said the company is willing to work with its members.

“We try to do what we can to balance the wishes of the property owner with what needs to be done to maintain the right-of-way,” he said. “The tree crews attempted to contact every member in person to discuss the plans for the ROW on their property. If the member was not home, they left door cards with contact information.”

“We are working with the members,” Franklin said. “If anyone is concerned, call the co-op.”

The trimming work — both on the ground and in the air — is contracted out.

“The new company we went with starting this year came to us with the idea of cleaning up some of the canopy with a helicopter,” Franklin said. “The results are fantastic. It’s going to be a staple for us going forward.”

“Jaflo Inc. is the right-of-way maintenance company we hired,” he said. “They, in turn, hired Rotorblade for the aerial trimming.”

The aircraft is only part of the operation, but there are places where it’s easier for the company to do the trimming from above. “They’re working on about 200 miles of line,” he said. “They figure out if it’s more efficient to use a helicopter. A lot of it depends on the terrain.”

The aircraft trails an aerial saw — numerous circular blades attached to a vertical bar that cuts within the company’s right-of-way.

“The cooperative maintains a right-of-way 15 feet on either side of the outmost line,” Franklin said. “So on a single-phase pole — no crossarms — it would be a 30-foot right-of-way. If it was a multi-phase pole with 10-foot cross-arms, it would result in a 40-foot right-of-way.”

There are clean-up crews accompanying the helicopter, Franklin said. “There’s a ground crew that’s cleaning up all the trimmings.”

The helicopter is expected to be working in northern Warren County next week, but it could show up anywhere. Warren Electric covers most of Warren County, and parts of Forest, Erie, Crawford, and Venango counties.

People are welcome to watch the process.

Ground crews will inform anyone who is getting too close to the helicopter’s path for safety.

And Franklin asks that people who notice the process while they are driving pull over if they want to continue watching.

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