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Leaders address trees cut along Nature Trail

Susan Whittaker is one of the local residents upset by tree-clearing ComEd did along the Nature Trail. Whittaker said she is talking with others to organize group to hold ComEd accountable.
Susan Whittaker is one of the local residents upset by tree-clearing ComEd did along the Nature Trail. Whittaker said she is talking with others to organize group to hold ComEd accountable.

DeKALB – Leaders promised Friday to restore the natural area ComEd cleared last week along the prairie path in the city, but the details have yet to be worked out.

Officials from ComEd and the DeKalb Park District said they will discuss which natural species should be planted along the park district’s Nature Trail, which runs between Sycamore Road and First Street. What will be planted there and who will pay for it remained unknown Friday afternoon.

The comments came one day after a group of DeKalb residents vented their anger about the tree cutting to park district and ComEd officials at an impromptu public hearing at the DeKalb Park District board meeting.

Despite the varying levels of rhetoric and criticism, a consensus among  residents emerged: The vegetation along the affected prairie paths needs to be restored to their natural beauty, the park district needs to be more involved in the future and ComEd needs to pay for the restoration.

Mark Levinsky, a DeKalb resident, said ComEd crews cut more than necessary.

“Don’t you think it would have been a more reasonable method to consult with the local people before and not after this?” Levinsky said. “It was very underhanded, and it was very heavy handed.”

Residents used words such as “devastation,” “slaughter,” and “massacre” to describe the tree-clearing done by ComEd and the contractors they hired, Asplundh Tree Expert Co.

Ralph Petersen, a disabled Army veteran, compared ComEd’s work to the Taliban. In an interview after the meeting, Petersen said the tree clearing broke his heart.

“It’s upsetting to me to see the devastation,” Petersen said. “It looks just like a war zone.”

Paul Callighan, ComEd’s external affairs manager for the DeKalb area, said how much brush they cut is dependent on how much the power line can sag, how fast the vegetation can grow, and how much voltage is running through the line.

Those lines also are high-voltage lines that fall under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission guidelines, which were tightened since the last time trimming was done in the area, Callighan has said.

But Callighan said they also factor in whether the vegetation in the area is the natural species or an invasive one. They entirely remove invasive species, which Callighan noted were growing heavily along the prairie path.

“That’s why they opted to do the type of clearing they did,” Callighan said.

In the interview and at the hearing, Callighan apologized for miscommunicating with the residents. Callighan said they are mandated by law to inform adjacent properties of any tree-cutting activities.

But he said some people didn’t receive a letter because even though they appear to live next to the trail, their property lines weren’t actually adjacent.

“We’re sorry that did not happen,” Callighan said. “In terms of the actual communication, we talk about vegetation techniques, acceptable species that can grow under the power lines...but [the letter] did not mention clearing out the invasive species.”

Several people complained about the language of the letter Thursday night, stating that the term “vegetation maintenance” was no way to describe the tree clearing that took place.

“I knew ComEd was going to be trimming. I did not know ComEd was going to be clear-cutting,” said Joan Berkes-Hanson, president of the DeKalb Park District Board of Commissioners. “I don’t think the property owners knew it was going to be clear cut.”

Callighan, Berkes-Hanson, park district executive director Cindy Capek, and other members of the public voiced a willingness to sit down and discuss how it would be best to restore the affected areas.

“We can do something moving forward,” Berkes-Hanson said. “We can do our best to try to restore that trail.”

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