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Alcoa neighbors upset with helicopter tree trimming method

The Alcoa Electric Department contracted with Rotor Blade, a South Carolina based aerial utility servicing company to trim 20 miles of lines.

Walland — A month after aerial tree trimmers cleared easements along utility lines, residents in one Walland neighborhood are still dealing with a mess of debris left behind.

"It's almost like a horror movie. This big giant chopper with these 10 saw blades appeared out of the sky on a beautiful sunny July afternoon and proceeded to decimate a mile and a half of our roadside, with branches going everywhere and trees dropping right and left," Ellejoy Crossing resident Rhea Morgan said.

The Alcoa Electric Department contracted with Rotor Blade, a South Carolina based aerial utility servicing company, to trim 20 miles of lines.

"It is a considerable savings of time, considerable cost savings and its also much more safe for our employees rather than them climbing trees and being in bucket trucks," City of Alcoa public information officer Patricia Tipton said.

Tipton said Alcoa's arborist brought the idea of using aerial tree trimming to the electric company. He had experience with the method in other areas.

"Given the terrain our system covers, its an excellent way to do things in a mountains or rugged terrain, and as you can see that's where we used it," Tipton said.

Morgan's problems with the aerial tree trimming are multidimensional.

She worries that many of the trees sheared from the sky will die, and that in turn it will end up creating more problems for both residents and the electric company.

Additionally, it has been a month since the chopper chopped the trees, but the debris is still sitting along the roads in her neighborhood. Alcoa says the debris will be cleaned up, but there is no definite timetable yet.

Morgan also says the helicopter flew closer to houses than Federal Aviation Administration regulations would allow.

"It's a good tool when you don't have road accessibility for bucket crews to get there, but then once the power line reaches the neighborhood itself, then it follows the road all the way back to the termination of the last house in the neighborhood," Morgan said. "As a community we feel this is inappropriate as a technique for a residential neighborhood and we hope that, by speaking up, that even though the damage is done here, we can prevent this from being done in other residential neighborhoods."

The City of Alcoa says it plans to continue using aerial tree trimming either later this year or in early 2019.

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