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July 25, 2006 at 2:04pm

Chugach Electric and AFD partner to remove danger trees on the Hillside

Chugach Electric and the Anchorage Fire Department are continuing a partnership to remove dead and dying trees on the Anchorage Hillside. The trees - most often beetle-killed spruce - are classified as "danger trees" that put the electric system at risk and provide a fuel source for wildfires. By the time funding runs out later this year, Chugach and the AFD will have cut and removed more than 4,600 trees from the Hillside in the past two years.

Danger trees are located outside of Chugach's rights of way. They are considered a danger because they have the potential to fall on a power line and cause an outage. Chugach regularly clears its rights of way and has an ongoing program to cut danger trees. Under its own program, with the permission of property owners Chugach drops danger trees safely to the ground and leaves them for the land owner. The AFD-funded work goes a step further and pays for Chugach's contractor to remove the downed trees from the property.

"Chugach and AFD are working pro-actively to reduce the potential of a brush fire," said Sue Rodman, a forester with the Anchorage Fire Department Wildfire Mitigation Office. "It's important to take these critical steps to help limit the potential and the severity of a fire in the Municipality and therefore save lives and property."

The collaboration between Chugach and the AFD is good for all concerned. Chugach has an interest in reducing the threat to reliability from trees outside its right of way. The Anchorage Fire Department is interested in reducing the volume of hazardous fuels on the Anchorage Hillside. Both of these interests are shared by property owners.

The Chugach and AFD partnership continues a program the two organizations began last year. In 2005 the tree removal operation targeted 79 miles of overhead power lines across the Hillside at a cost of about $300,000. More than 2,800 trees were cut and removed.

The project was funded as part of an ongoing effort to address concerns about wildfire on the Hillside. The AFD has been using federal grant funds for a variety of wildfire mitigation projects in recent years.

This year the Anchorage Assembly approved spending another $200,000 in grant funds to continue the partnership with Chugach and the danger tree removal program. Based on the previous year's work, Chugach and the AFD expect to complete the removal of about 1,850 danger trees in 2006 along the overhead power line corridors for the Anchorage Hillside east of Lake Otis Parkway.

"Danger tree removal is a good tactic to mitigate the risks and hazards associated with wildfire," Rodman said. "In the wake of the spruce bark beetle epidemic, Anchorage's dead spruce trees are weak at the bases and primed to fall over in a strong wind."

In addition to the collaboration with AFD, Chugach's own danger tree program will cut an additional 7,000 to 8,000 trees this year.

Because the trees being cut are outside the utility right of way, property owners must give their OK to Chugach and the AFD before the contractor can do the work.

Safety is a key concern when cutting trees near electric facilities. Chugach uses a contractor that employs qualified line clearance tree trimmers to work around its energized power lines.

For more information, contact AFD at 267-4980 or Chugach at 762-7660.

Chugach is the largest electric utility in Alaska, providing power for Alaskans throughout the Railbelt through retail, wholesale and economy energy sales.

For more information, contact Patti Bogan, 762-4736, cell 272-0704 Sue Rodman, 267-4902