Tree clearing (D/97/19)

Case number: D/97/19
Date of Decision: 28 November 1997
Decision accepted by the customer: Yes

The customer contacted EIOV with a complaint regarding her electricity company's removal of five trees, on and adjacent to her property. The customer complained that the company did not consult her prior to the removal of the trees, nor did they attend satisfactorily to her complaint subsequent to the felling.

The customer stated that unidentified contractors had entered the customer's property prior to the removal and had marked the relevant trees. The customer's mother, present at the time, assumed the contractor had been sent by the council. She strongly objected to their removal stating that the trees were not endangering any power lines. The customer was unable to lodge an objection with the council and removed the marks from the five trees. The customer subsequently discovered that the trees had been cut down and further, that her fence wire was damaged due to cut timber being pulled through it.

Numerous telephone conversations and letters followed between the customer, the company, and the contractors during which the contractors offered the customer a $15 seedling voucher in compensation.

The company stated in response that the contractor was adequately identified by means of contractor badging. The contractor and the company believed the trees were of unsound condition and within powerline clearance space. The company also stated that the fence had been put back into its prior condition.

The customer, at EIOV's request, provided substantiation of her claim at $13,223. This included the cost of her time in planting and nurturing the trees over the previous six years as well as the cost of planting and maintaining replacements.

EIOV undertook a lengthy investigation, during which the advice of an independent arboriculturalist consultant was sought. The advice provided was that the loss of the trees did not diminish the quality of the landscape, nor did it seriously affect the environmental quality of the area.

In determining this case, the Ombudsman considered this advice. The customer's distress at the loss of the trees and her assessment of the time and costs in obtaining quotes and planting and nurturing trees was also considered. The company's view that it would be in breach of its duty of care to the community if it did not take all reasonable measures to maintain the necessary safe clearance between trees and power lines at the location concerned, was also taken into account. In addition, the Ombudsman also examined the requirements of the Code of Practice for Powerline Clearance (Vegetation) 1992 and 1996.

The Ombudsman formed the view if the company had followed the appropriate consultation procedures under the Code, the misunderstandings that followed would have been avoided. A breakdown in communication between the parties had occurred, and the contractor should have been alerted to the need for further consultation on finding the marks removed from the trees.

The Ombudsman directed the company to pay the customer $2,850.