Why is an arborist cutting down trees? So Hamilton’s power stays on

In 14 months on the job, Dave Bienemann — Hamilton’s municipal arborist and utility forester — has overseen removal of many trees that interfere with Hamilton’s municipally-owned electric wires to prevent power outages.

In addition to tree removal, he also mapped every tree on city-owned property into a system similar to a GPS.

With that information, if severe winds or storms were to hit a section of the city, like they did in Lindenwald last year, Bienemann now can estimate within 10 minutes “how many trees were down, how many crews it would take to clear the roads of the debris to get the power lines back up,” he said.

MORE: Hamilton’s arborist may hold key to reducing power outages in city

Already, Hamilton has seen improvements in power outages — a trend Bienemann has improved since starting his work here in early 2016.

With improved tree-maintenance programs by the city, the number of minutes an average customer has lacked electricity because of trees has dropped significantly — from 339.6 minutes in 2010 down to 58.5 minutes in 2015, and a sliver below 48 minutes last year.

That’s the main answer to this question he often receives: “Why is this arborist cutting down all these trees?”

One area on the city’s target list for clearing is a transmission line near Bobmeyer Road that caused a citywide power outage Jan. 12. Along that line, crews will clear trees that may interfere with the power within 25 feet of the poles on each side — and also are removing dead ash and other decayed or broken trees for an additional 15 feet on other side.

When it’s possible — if the grassy area between streets and sidewalks is wide enough — the city is replacing trees that are taken down with up to two new ones per property.

MORE: Hamilton takes inventory of trees on public property

Armand Bloch, a member of Hamilton’s tree board, which began planting trees several years ago and has seen an upgrade in programs since Bienemann’s arrival, says people used to be aggravated by tree clearance. But now, he said, they have a better understanding of the program.

“Dave’s been a real game-changer, as far as trees in Hamilton are concerned,” Bloch said.

Crews hired by Hamilton’s utilities have been cutting down trees along city utility rights-of-way, starting in Hamilton’s northwestern-most areas, because they experienced the most outages from trees, which are much more plentiful there than other areas. After that – around December – the focus will move to another heavily wooded area in southwest Hamilton before crews cross to east of the Great Miami River in 2018.

“It’s costing $25,000 a mile to clear” (areas along power lines through backyards), he said, and 65 percent of the lines are in rear lots. “You have to send guys back and they have to manually climb trees trees, manually take them out of the wire, and in some cases we have to do a temporary outage” to avoid chances of electrocution.

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