published Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Federal judge dismisses TVA tree-cutting case

KNOXVILLE — A federal judge in Knoxville has found a more aggressive cutting of trees along TVA power transmission lines is legal.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan filed an order of summary judgment on July 23 against a petition by plaintiffs who sued the federal utility.

“He pretty much blew us out of the water,” plaintiff Vance Sherwood said of the judge’s ruling.

An appeal is being considered, Sherwood said.

The lawsuit came after TVA decided to remove any tree that could grow to more than 15 feet tall under power lines in a West Knoxville neighborhood. TVA plans to use the same standard along all of its 15,900 miles of transmission lines.

TVA spokesman Travis Brickey said Monday the ruling and a similar one earlier this year support the utility’s ability to provide reliable electric service to its customers.

The plaintiffs are residents of the Westminster Place subdivision who filed suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority in the spring of 2012 after the utility announced it would cut trees there in accordance with a stricter standard of maintaining easements under its high-tension power transmission lines.

“One thing I will say for TVA —they didn’t cut while we were in court, and that is fair and I appreciate that,” Sherwood said. “Now, we are trying to figure out the best way to get them to postpone that cutting further.”

The plaintiffs presented several issues, but Varlan has dismissed all of their claims except one — whether the more aggressive tree trimming required an environmental review.

The ruling this month closed the case. Varlan concluded no such review is required.

In the 29-page ruling, the court found TVA must do certain environmental evaluations, but concluded the utility appears to have done those, and the law does not specifically require TVA to prepare an environmental impact statement.

“The federal court ruling affirms TVA’s vegetation management program to manage trees and plants underneath thousands of miles of high voltage transmission lines,” reads a statement from TVA. “Earlier this year, the court also upheld TVA’s rights to cut trees and remove vegetation within previously purchased easements.”

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