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[continued from Part 1]
After meeting with the contractor that Ameren dispatched to walk my property line and mark trees, he invited me to walk the line with him. I was glad I did. Not only did this give me an opportunity to recalibrate his understanding of easements, but it gave him a chance to come clean and admit that he had already marked a half dozen of my trees with orange spray paint — designating them for removal! These trees were nowhere near the easement, but he said that they look for trees that will become a problem in the next few years and remove them as a preventative measure. He was very reasonable, and agreed to cover up the paint so that Nelson Tree Service would not touch them. (If it were only that easy!)
In my second letter to Ray Wiesehan, I recounted all of this and included photographs of the trees that had been painted. I concluded by telling him:
I very much appreciate your time and attention in coordinating with me prior to the trimming activity. However, it will have all been a waste of time if this information is not communicated to the Nelson Tree Service crew who actually performs the work. I have erected four Private Property signs along my property line to aid the crew in determining where they are allowed to cut. I have done everything I can reasonably do to protect my property. Now it is my expectation that you will do the same.
It quickly became apparent that all of my work had been for naught. Despite my due diligence, there had been no coordination whatsoever on Ameren’s part. The showdown I had hoped to avoid occurred May 5, when Nelson Tree Service showed up with their Super-Axe-Hackers, ready to fell my beloved Truffula Trees. I explained the situation to their supervisor, Randy Jennings, and he was also a very reasonable gentleman, but his complete lack of concern for where his crew was cutting left me quite dismayed. I asked him if anyone had talked to him with regard to my property, or if he even had a map of the property lines. The answer, of course, was no, and obviously, without a map, easements have no meaning.
The irony is that Ameren’s own web site says, “Ameren may have to remove trees that we deem a high risk to electrical service … A contractor from Ameren will notify the homeowner regarding the need for removal.” This is nonsense. It is painfully clear that even if a homeowner goes out of her way to demand this kind of interaction, it probably won’t happen. No, the only way to protect your trees from Ameren’s hired vandals is to camp out in your yard and be ready to speak on their behalf.
I am not a fan of Ameren. Ever since I spent seven days without electricity in the throes of a St. Louis summer, there is very little that company can do to find favor with me. I’m sure I’m not alone. That incident in July 2006, where a half million residents lost power for days following some severe storms, actually gave Ameren enough of a black eye that they started to at least pretend that they cared about their customers. In response to the public outcry, Ameren launched an initiative to make their service more reliable. What they actually launched was a War on Trees.
I’ve always been a fan of trees. Spending your entire childhood right next to the woods surrounding a creek will do that to you. The value of a tree is difficult to quantify when you consider all of its benefits. Beyond the sheer beauty, there are the obvious environmental benefits, not to mention the financial benefits of a shade tree that makes your air conditioner more efficient. In our current house, I’ve discovered that the abatement of noise and visual nuisances is one of a tree’s most valuable functions. I’ve also discovered that unless you are willing to speak in defense of your trees, you are likely to lose them to people who do not care.
So let’s ignore for the moment that Ameren is a monopoly that acts as an agent of the government (which by itself is plenty of reason to despise them), and focus on just the impenetrable bureaucracy of a public utility. In March I received a notice in the mail from Ameren that they were once again beginning their quadrennial assault on our arboreal assets. In response, I fired off a letter to Ray Weisehan, “Onceler” of Vegetation Management, asking that he direct his chainsaw mercenaries (Nelson Tree Service) to carefully consult their maps before setting foot on my property so that they would know which trees were in the Ameren easement, and which trees to leave alone.
To my surprise, Ameren actually responded by dispatching a Jared Rielson from the Utilimap Corporation to walk my property line and mark the trees that should be targeted. One might expect that a contractor from a company called Utilimap would have consulted an actual map before performing his duties. One would be wrong. It also came as a surprise when I told him that Ameren’s easement extended a mere five feet on either side of their electrical lines, and not the ten feet that he had been led to believe. But the last surprise was on me when we finally walked the property together…
[continued in Part 2]
Last week I wrote about our new trees. We bought them from Schmittel’s Nursery in Maryland Heights, and paid them to install the trees. The installation was complicated by the fact that two of the trees were 5-inch maples that are very large and very heavy. They could not use the normal wheelbarrow or hand truck to move these trees — they required heavy machinery, like a Bobcat, to get them into place — which meant that I had to take down a section of our fence to get the machine into our yard.
After one false start, when they postponed the install due to weather, they came out a week later to walk our yard and see if it was still too wet. At the time, I was impressed with their concern for our yard. The gentleman who came out said several times that they didn’t want to tear up our grass. He also said that they would use a piece of equipment that had tracks instead of wheels because it wouldn’t leave ruts in the yard. He decided to delay the install two more days just to be sure the ground was dry enough.
Well, that was a Monday, and I was at work when they showed up. As it turns out, they did not use the tracked vehicle. They used a plain old Bobcat instead, and it did, in fact, leave ruts. Everywhere. There were a number of places where the grass was completely torn up. They acknowledged the damage, and offered to make a followup visit to fill the holes with topsoil and grass seed, which they did. Prior to this, I called to tell them that the two big trees were starting to lean, so they staked them and put ropes on them to keep them from settling crooked while they were there.
The worst part of the install, however, was that they dumped a couple of yards of soil from the holes they dug over our fence onto the creek bank. This is not an unreasonable thing to do, however, out of the hundred or so feet of fence along the back of our yard, they chose the one and only gate as the place to dump the dirt. Yeah, the gate. You know, the one place where someone is likely to walk? What kind of moron does something like that? And it just so happens that I have constructed steps into the creek bank below that gate so it is easier to get up and down. So when I called, I complained about that too, and I asked them to clean up their mess. Somebody showed up that day and scraped a bit of the dirt around with a shovel, but most of it is still there, and my steps are completely buried.
Now the people at Schmittel’s that I talked to, either on the phone, or in person, were very nice, and seemed committed to customer satisfaction. The people who actually showed up to do the install, well, that’s another story. It is very disappointing, and for this reason I would not recommend Schmittel’s to anyone.
It’s been a year since I last wrote about the torturous sewer project that transpired in our back yard. There is one final chapter in this saga, however, that I wanted to document here for the benefit of anyone else who might have to deal with MSD.
A few weeks ago we replaced the trees that MSD took from us, and foolishly hoped that they would honor their verbal agreement late last summer to pay for one of them that was not in our original contract. When my wife contacted Steve Welnick on April 27, he had nothing but spiteful comments for her about how difficult we had been to work with during the entire episode. I responded to this inappropriate behavior with this letter to his supervisor, Allen Muehlher.
I don’t know why I expected anything different from a bunch of government bureaucrats. If you are unfortunate enough to have MSD schedule a project on your property, I hope your experience is better than my own. (But I wouldn’t hold my breath.)
November 21, 2007 20:43 | Comments (0) | sewer, trees, video |
If J & J Boring, of Winfield, Missouri had a web site, I’d link to it. But, they don’t. I didn’t turn up much in Google for them, either. So I guess this will be the first and only review of their work available on the Internet. In a word, I am displeased.
They are a subcontractor to XL Contracting who is the prime contractor to the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) in the ongoing sewer project in my back yard. So their level of accountability is what you would expect from a sub to a sub, which is to say, none at all.
The digging began on Halloween, and within a few days, J & J had arrived with their equipment to begin boring a 488 foot tunnel underneath highway 270 which is adjacent to my property. Our representative at MSD went out of his way to let us know they were doing everything they could to save the tree in the southeast corner of our yard. Despite protests from J & J that it would make their job too difficult, they were ordered to work around the tree.
As you can see in the surveillance video (yes, that’s right MSD, the whole project is being videotaped!), the crane is having to swing out across my fenceline (away from the camera) in order to move the dirt out of, and sections of pipe into, the pit. This was apparently being complicated by a different tree (on my property), and so the fine workmen of J & J fired up their chainsaw and removed it. Well, they cut it down anyway. They didn’t remove it, it’s still there leaning against the tree next to it. I guess they were determined to tear down a tree. Whether it was the one next to pit or not didn’t matter, but some tree had to go.
I placed a call to Steve Welnick, who is the Division Inspector at MSD, to voice my displeasure with this act. Steve seems like a nice enough guy, but I have the same amount of respect for him that I have for any bureaucrat at any government agency, which is to say, none at all. So we will see if he lives up to the agreement he sent me in writing that says MSD will notify me from now on before any trees are removed from my property.
December 1, 2006 11:30 | Comments (1) | energy, St. Louis, trees |
Earlier this year I wrote about AmerenUE’s pathetic response to a massive power outage in St. Louis that occurred as a direct result of storm damage and Ameren’s lack of proper tree trimming maintenance. It looks as though Ameren is not yet done atoning for those sins.
Today more than 500,000 people in the St. Louis area are once again without power. Thankfully, I am not one of them this time. Although, that is only because we moved out of our old house — which, of course, is once again powerless. The predictions of the local media are even more dour than last time — with early estimates of at least 5 days to restore power.
The last storm in July occurred during the peak of the summer heat, and several area residents died from it because they had no power to run their air conditioning. I fully expect the death toll from this outage to far exceed that, as we are in the grip of the worst snowstorm in years, and temperatures have dipped into the twenties.
The cost of repairs this time will no doubt exceed those of last time as well. Which leads one to wonder, what if Ameren had simply coughed up the few millions it takes to keep the trees trimmed? Would they have saved money in the long run? Would they still need the rate increase they had the audacity to request earlier this year?