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Lexington sues KU in court. It wants judge to order utility to stop clear-cutting trees

·3 min read

The city of Lexington has sued Kentucky Utilities in state court and wants a Fayette Circuit Court judge to issue a temporary injunction, stopping the utility company from cutting trees under major transmission lines in Fayette County.

The lawsuit, filed late Wednesday, alleges KU has overstepped its easement by cutting down trees taller than 15 feet. The city is asking for unspecified monetary damages and an immediate injunction that would stop the utility giant from cutting down trees while the case proceeds through the courts.

Lawyers for the city said in court documents that a 1982 state Supreme Court case regarding KU’s easement says the company is limited to only what is “reasonable and is necessary to the natural and reasonable use of its primary easement.”

People protest as workers prepare to cut trees underneath KU utility lines along Lansdowne Drive in Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.
People protest as workers prepare to cut trees underneath KU utility lines along Lansdowne Drive in Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

KU’s tree cutting practices are not necessary or reasonable, city officials argued in court documents.

Lawyers for the city also argue trees provide economic and other benefits including improving stormwater run off.

“Kentucky Utilities’ current mitigation practices are insufficient and do not adequately compensate LFUCG for the damage, economic or otherwise, caused by the company’s clear-cutting of trees posing no immediate threat to electric service,” the lawsuit says.

Kentucky Utilities said it will fight the temporary injuncture.

“We plan to oppose the motion, and I would stress again that our work is critical to the safety and reliability of the system,” said Daniel Lowry, a spokesman for KU. “We respect the mayor and city council members, and that is why we have met with them more than 20 times on this issue, and have agreed to modify our approach temporarily and focus only on trees that pose immediate risk.”

The lawsuit was filed after more than a year of back-and-forth between the utility company and the city over KU’s tree cutting policy. The utility gave no notice to the city when it clear-cut trees on Southpoint Drive in 2020, the lawsuit alleges.

“Kentucky Utilities’ extreme and unilateral tree removal practice of clear-cutting trees within Lexington-Fayette County’s urban forest and the right-of-way that pose no immediate threat to electric service results in economic damage to Lexington-Fayette County and its citizens,” the lawsuit said.

Kentucky Utility officials have stressed they are replanting trees that have to be cut. Not all trees over 15 feet have been axed.

In addition to clearance between the tree and the line, there also needs to be enough clearance so KU crews can work on the line safely, KU officials have said.

Over the past six years, one in six outages in the Lexington area were a result of vegetation issues, KU officials have said. KU has also said that its more aggressive tree cutting policy has resulted in an overall 40 percent reduction in outages throughout its service area.

KU switched from cyclical trimming of trees to clear-cutting trees over 15 feet under transmission lines in 2014. However, that policy was not implemented in urban areas until 2019.

Earlier on Wednesday, KU agreed to leave some trees that were scheduled to be chopped along the Lansdowne Drive median after Mayor Linda Gorton stepped in to negotiate an agreement between the utility company and protesters. Wednesday was the second day of protests along Lansdowne Drive.

In addition to the Lansdowne Drive median, KU crews are also cutting trees under a transmission line in the Fairways at Lakeside area.

In addition to the lawsuit, city officials said earlier this week that they also plan to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission, which oversees utility companies. That complaint will likely be filed early next week, city officials said.

KU agrees to temporarily modify tree-cutting plans after renewed protests

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