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Gorton reaches temporary compromise with KU over tree removal

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Lexington residents protesting tree removal by Kentucky Utilities showed up again on Lansdowne Drive Wednesday morning, and, with the help of Mayor Linda Gorton, the utility agreed to a temporary compromise. Arlo Barnette reports.

After Monday’s protest led to an arrest and the clearing of trees that the Mayor said could not possibly interfere with transmission lines, city officials agreed Tuesday to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission and file for an injunction to stop the clear-cutting.

After speaking with KU officials Wednesday, Gorton announced the utility will continue cutting large trees that pose a risk to the lines, but has agreed to stop removing smaller trees for the next couple of days.

“KU is very interested at sitting at the table again. That is really what the letter to the PSC and filing the injunction will help us with. It gives us an opportunity to pause and get to the table to have more conversations.” (Courtesy of WKYT)

Gorton said over the last year of attempted negotiations, KU has largely ignored requests and has not shown the city respect. While hoping to find some relief from the courts, Gorton says they are also asking lawmakers to pass new legislation that will force the utility to work with the city.

The trees taken down Monday were initially planted with KU’s approval, but the utility has said crews are scheduled to return to re-plant compatible species next week.

KU spokesman Daniel Lowry told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the utility has met to address concerns with city officials and neighborhood associations more than 19 times in the past year. He also asserted that some of the trees on Lansdowne do pose a threat to the safety of utility workers.

“Those trees can grow another 10 feet, but the power line is at 41 feet and can sag an additional four feet. For our crews to work on a line, they have to have 15 feet clearance between the tree and the line . . . Lives matter to KU. Trees matter to KU. Every place where we have cut trees we have replaced them with compatible trees.”

In response to those who say that clear-cutting is being implemented because it's cheaper than trimming trees, Lowry told the newspaper:

"It has nothing to do with costs. It is not about us saving or making money. This is about the safety and reliability of the system.”

Vice Mayor Steve Kay spoke up in a Wednesday release from the Mayor's office:

“It’s unfortunate that an important corporate citizen is unwilling to listen to the clear concerns of the community it exists to serve. As a Council, we have been committed to improving our environment. This is a real setback.” KU is applying the same clear-cutting practices it uses in more rural areas, where there are acres of trees, to Lexington neighborhoods. “That makes no sense. We have worked hard and invested resources to build a tree canopy. Trees are important to our city. Lexington has been a Tree City USA for 33 years. Trees help control stormwater, improve air quality, provide shade and enhance our neighborhoods.”

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