Lawsuit to prevent clear cutting trees filed in Peters

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Two Washington County homeowners have filed a lawsuit to prevent an electric utility company from clear cutting trees under high-voltage power lines.

Layne and Gina Ciminel, who live in the Windermere Court development in Peters, on Friday filed a lawsuit against FirstEnergy and its subsidiary West Penn Power, alleging that the energy giant is violating the terms of a 1960 right-of-way agreement.

The couple is also seeking an injunction to prevent the company from cutting trees this month, as it had planned.

The injunction, signed at the time by property owners who no longer own the land, spells out the company's rights to install and maintain a 138,000-kilovolt transmission line, but a lawyer for the Ciminels said the company is abusing those rights by clear cutting instead of simply trimming the trees.

"Our position is whatever legal authority they have to perform landscaping in the right-of-way, they don’t have a legal right to clear cut indiscriminately, and that’s what they were attempting to do," said lawyer Harlan Stone, who filed the suit in Washington County Common Pleas Court.

The case has been assigned to Judge Katherine Emery who has not yet scheduled a hearing in the matter, according to her tipstaff.

So far, FirstEnergy officials have resisted efforts by the Ciminels and their neighbors to compromise on the tree cutting and even rebuffed mediation overtures by Peters council members, state Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, and state Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair.

"We don't have a tolerance for any trees that could grow above 10 feet," company spokesman Todd Meyers previously said.

Mr. Meyers said on Tuesday that FirstEnergy had not yet been served with the suit, but once it is, lawyers will review and respond appropriately.

"We have and will continue to meet face-to-face with the Ciminels concerning the vegetation management work planned for easement on their property," Mr. Meyers said. "The bottom line is that FirstEnergy is committed to providing safe and reliable electric service to our 24,000 customers in Peters Township who depend on this transmission line and the interconnected network it serves."

Headquartered in Akron, Ohio, the $15 billion diversified energy company operates in six states with one of the nation's largest investor-owned electric systems. It acquired the area's previous electric company, West Penn Power, in 2011.

West Penn traditionally trimmed tree tops to prevent interference with the lines, but FirstEnergy has informed residents that it plans to clear cut thousands of trees, including small ornamental trees that wouldn't reach the 50-foot-high transmission lines when mature.

The transmission line feeds three substations in the area and provides power for about 24,000 customers. The tree-cutting planned in Peters is part of the maintenance of 4,600 miles of transmission and distribution lines, including 400 trees that will be cleared by the company this year at a cost of $25 million.

Janice Crompton: or 412-263-1159 office. Follow her on Twitter.

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