By Mike Scott
Sandra Ewart’s ranch home sits on one and 13/16th acres, along Route C in Clark County. The home has an idyllic location atop a hill, with sweeping view.
Since the 1970’s, the Ewarts have maintained a small dwarf fruit tree orchard just to the east of the house, under the transmission power lines owned by Ameren Missouri. The dozen or so apple, plum, peach and pear trees stand only a few feet taller than a man standing on the ground could reach, and are less than half the height of the high-voltage wires above.
But Ameren says they have to go.
“We’ve had an orchard here almost as long as we’ve been on this place,” said Ewart.
Last year, for the first time ever, Ewart was contacted by an Ameren trimming contractor, who told her they were going to cut the trees down to a six-foot height. Ewart objected, but they agreed upon a 10-foot height. At that time, however, they only trimmed a hazelnut bush, which does not sit under the lines and may not even sit within Ameren’s 100-foot easement, granted by the previous owners in 1958 for one dollar.
This summer, the contractors again showed up, this time while Sandra was away. Her granddaughters were house sitting when the contractor arrived, and, not knowing any differently, allowed the contractors to proceed. Ewart happened to call home at that time, and told the girls to stop the crew until she got home They did, but not before a plum tree was cut to a six-foot height, with nearly all its fruit-bearing branches removed and left in a pile.
Ewart met with Ameren’s Vegetation Management Supervisor, Chad Warren, when he visited the property on June 26.
In a letter requesting help from Missouri State Senator Brian Munzlinger, she described that encounter:
“Upon his arrival and inspection, Mr. Warren advised me that they had to be trimmed to a 6 ft. height. I told him that was not acceptable, and that he’d better bring a court order if he planned to come back and do so.”
Ewart also claims she was told her ground itself was “in violation”, along with her neighbor’s hay field.
In her letter to Munzlinger, she contends that Warren’s statement amounts to an admission that Ameren has not maintained a transmission line of sufficient height to protect property owners, and Ameren’s actions will deprive her of any meaningful use of the property she has owned and paid taxes on for many years.
She also claims Warren argued with her that Ameren’s easement is 150 feet. After showing him the deed, he admitted they had a 100-foot easement.
Further, she pointed out that Ameren’s local distribution lines along Route C were overgrown with trees and brush, but that was not his area of concern.
A couple weeks after Warren’s visit, Ewart received a letter dated July 17, 2014, stating that Ameren’s intention was to “remove the incompatible right-of-way trees…to ground level,” and that they would be performing the work on December 3.
“I really feel like is harassment, now,” said Ewart. “Like he’s mad because he didn’t get his way.”
Utilities are required by the federal government to establish a vegetation management program, following a widespread power outage in 2003.
An internet search showed many major utilities meet that requirement by allowing only low brush and grass underneath the power lines, with a graduated increase in vegetation height further away, so Ameren’s actions appear to be within an industry norm.
Ameren has offered a tree replacement reimbursement in the amount of $600.
“I’m worried that if I accept that, there will be something in the agreement giving them a 150-foot easement,” she added. “People really need to be aware of what can happen when they sign a right of way.”
Further legal action by the Ewarts is unlikely.
“The likelihood of succeeding in court is very low,” said Sandra’s son, Randy. “She’s been willing to be reasonable, and has never denied them access. It seems like it’s a heavy-handed response to hararss and intimidate.”
Editor’s Note: We contacted Ameren for comment, but none was returned by press time.