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Olson: Trees toppled by regulations

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They still were at it Friday morning, chopping away half the nature from the Nature Trail between Sycamore Road and First Street in DeKalb.

We received several calls this week about the work going on. Reporter David Thomas visited the scene and wrote a story about it that appeared in Wednesday’s Daily Chronicle.

“A lot of people are very upset,” said Ron Cress of DeKalb. “People were crying earlier in the week.”

I decided to check out the clear cut beneath the power lines for myself Friday, and I met Ron walking on the trail. He exchanged shrugs with a woman who rode past on a bicycle as we walked through the work zone.

You can see why people were moved to tears. One side of the path was a tangle of trees and brush; on the other, power lines towered above a bed of woodchips.

This upsetting episode might be an opportunity, though. I put this to Ron, who volunteers with the Nature Conservancy at the Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove.

“The only hope for this area is to do what they’re doing in some respects,” Cress said. “If you really would like to get the land back to its native state, you have to get rid of all the junk stuff, the honeysuckle and grapevines.”

Simply clear-cutting through the tangle won’t do the job by itself, Cress said. If the idea is to create a prairie landscape, someone’s going to have to plant those specimens and care for them, too.

Based on the way that the undisturbed landscape looks on the other side of the path, there hasn’t been a lot of landscape maintenance.

Maintaining the vegetation along the path is a labor-intensive proposition, said DeKalb Park District Executive Director Cindy Capek.

The park district maintains the Nature Trail, and Capek said she runs on the trail every day, but the matter is out of the district’s hands.

“We can’t do anything to stop it,” Capek said.

That’s because ComEd, which owns the power transmission lines, has a 24-foot right of way on either side of the power poles where they can do whatever cutting necessary.

Turns out ComEd can’t really do much about it, either. The power lines that run along the nature trail are high-voltage. They carry power from power plants to area substations, which then distribute electricity at a lower voltage to homes and businesses. This particular line runs from south DeKalb up to a substation on the north side near Glidden and Twombly roads, and also links with Sycamore’s power grid.

High-voltage lines fall under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guidelines, and those regulations have become tighter since the last time trimming was done in the area, ComEd spokesman Paul Callighan said.

“[They] require clearing out the trees completely underneath the high-voltage lines,” Callighan said. “So we were forced in the trimming cycle here to meet these requirements.”

Woodchippers will be humming in the area for another week or two, Callighan said.

Capek said park officials would keep an eye on what begins to grow in the clear-cut space beneath the lines.

“I think as it’s coming up, we’ll try to contain invasive species,” she said.

As for planting native grasses in the area, Capek said the park district would be watching to see what grows up in the spring and beyond.

“We’ll evaluate that and say, ‘Is that something we can seed?’ … and look at what begins to come up naturally,” she said.

Keeping perspective: To some degree, this is the price of modern convenience. If we can’t afford to bury power lines everywhere, then they must be respected.

We can’t complain when wind storms knock out power for days – remember the prolonged power outages after the “derecho” windstorm that hit in July 2011? – and then complain when the utility company cuts down trees to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The trees being cleared aren’t exactly old-growth forest, and clearing them away presents an opportunity to restore the area to a more native state.

But whatever grows back in the spring and summer certainly won’t provide the shade and animal habitat that made the trail so special for many people either.

If people who care about the trail harness the anger they’re feeling now to help restore the ecosystem to a state that’s better than it was before this week, then something positive can come of this whole thing.

For his part, Cress said he doesn’t plan to let the matter drop.

“My push is to really try to hold ComEd and the park district’s feet to the fire to come in and restore it with native material,” he said.

Changes online: Even if, like me, you love starting your morning with a cup of coffee and the newspaper, chances are that you’ve read the Daily Chronicle online at Daily-Chronicle.com from time to time.

After all, it’s easier to get up-to-the-minute news and sports coverage on our website, as well as our complementary websites, including HuskieWire.com.

There are lots of exclusive offerings online that you can’t get in print, including local sports and news videos, photo slideshows, daily web polls, local blogs, local deals and coupons, and more

The growth of the Internet has changed newspaper industry for the better. It’s really unbelievable how many ways we can bring you news about people and places you care about than we could 10 or 15 years ago.

We’ve never really charged people for our content, and we don’t want to start now.

In an effort to avoid charging people to access our websites, we are seeking other ways to make money with them, in part by partnering with companies such as Google.

In July, we rolled out a microsurvey program on our site, which was suspended after complaints from our audience.

Some people were understandably concerned about their privacy. Others said they felt if they subscribed to the newspaper, they shouldn’t have to answer any of the questions.

We heard you. We went back to the drawing board. Now we’ve returned with an adjusted system that will work better.

Beginning Monday, when users attempt to read their first full story on Daily-Chronicle.com, a box will appear that says “Answer a quick question to access this article”.

The viewer then has the option of answering one or two quick survey questions (such as, Are you a small business owner?), or logging into our site to continue reading the story. For those who are not yet registered, there is a link to do so.

If you log in, you don’t have to answer the questions. Becoming a registered user of our website is free, and although you have to provide your name and email address, you do not have to agree to receive any marketing information.

The surveys are anonymous, and Google guarantees us it does not mine the data to uncover respondents’ identities or attempt to send them unsolicited marketing pitches.

You won’t get spammed by someone in a Nigerian internet café claiming he’s a Hong Kong financier who wants to park $350 million in your bank account for a couple of days.

People will be asked the survey questions only once in a 24-hour period. If they take you more than 20 seconds to answer, you’re probably overthinking it.

Best of all, there’s no cost to you to register, answer the surveys or view the stories on our website.

That’s the way we’d like to keep things.

If you have questions or problems with the new system, feel free to contact me at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, or News Editor Jillian Duchnowski at ext. 2221.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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