Beverly Hills assured info, consent for DTE tree trimming

By: Mike Koury, Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published March 7, 2016


BEVERLY HILLS — DTE Energy continues its public relations efforts after the tree-trimming debacle that happened just over a year ago in the Bloomfield area.

Last week, DTE spokesperson Michael Palchesko appeared before the Beverly Hills Village Council to make leaders aware of the utility’s plans to trim trees in the area during 2016.

The work is part of the company’s obligation to improve service in neighborhoods with higher numbers of tree-related power outages, as ordered by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Things infamously got a little out of hand at the close of 2014, however, when residents along Kensington Road in Bloomfield Hills and Bloomfield Township complained that DTE’s contracted tree trimmers were cutting too much from the foliage on their private property, in some cases clearing trees as far as 25 feet away from power lines.

Shortly after complaints emerged in mid-December of 2014 — which included a $54 million lawsuit from residents, which has since been resolved — DTE suspended its cutting. The attorney representing the residents in that case, Geoffrey Fieger, did not respond to the Eagle’s request for comment on the results of that case.

The chainsaws started to whir again in the spring of 2015 with a promise from the company to improve communications with residents.

And that’s just what Palchesko said he was attempting to do when he came before the council March 1 when he assured them that residents would be well-informed about work before it takes place.

“We will also be reaching out with letters, and in some cases, if a customer has had repeated power outages, we want to make them aware that we’re going to be doing tree work in their area, so we do some phone call outreach,” he said.

In fact, he upped the ante when he said that no trees would be removed from private property without the resident’s written consent.

“If there is a tree that we identify that needs to be removed … then we will again hang a door hanger on the property owner or a customer’s door informing them of that,” he said. “But we will not remove a tree without a signed release from a customer. That’s something we really focused on in 2015, and we’re going to continue that into 2016.”

Residents who only need trimming, however, won’t be able to dictate the work done to their trees. But DTE spokesperson Lisa Bello said those homeowners can still expect to see and hear from workers well before the work begins so any concerns can be put to rest.

“Since last year, we’ve really revamped our process. There’s a lot more collaboration and communication with customers,” Bello explained. “The process goes like this: There are presentations made, like what happened in Beverly Hills, and then a little while before we trim, we send out a letter.”

After that, Bello said workers are sent into the field to assess the trees near wires and see where trimming is needed to prevent an outage from falling limbs.

“Then, at the homes where trimming is needed, we leave a door hanger with information for (the homeowner) to call us and talk to someone about what’s going on,” she said. “A lot of the communication we do now is up front and face to face; that especially is new.”

Bello said planners have yet to walk the wires in Beverly Hills to see just where trimming is needed, though she said it will happen this year.

Village Manager Chris Wilson said he is happy with how DTE is making a strong effort to notify residents of upcoming work.

He said that after the problems the company had previously, better communication was needed to put residents at ease, as the village doesn’t always have direct oversight over DTE’s projects.

“We agree that the trimming work is necessary in order to keep the system reliable, but I think the extra communication with the residents was important,” Wilson said. “This is a good step that will solve a lot of problems that cropped up.”