City Input Urged in Utility Vegetation Plans

The Interim Joint Committee on Local Government met for the first time this year on Tuesday morning, and immediately legislators heard about the need for local decision making. Rep. Killian Timoney (R-Lexington), Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Councilmember David Kloiber, and two Lexington residents urged members to require local government input on utility vegetation management plans.

Timoney filed House Bill 485 in the 2022 session to address the issue, but representatives did not hear the bill in committee. Those testifying on Tuesday said they believe legislators can pass a “much better” bill in the 2023 session.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) vegetation plan has a wide scope of what is allowed. “We leave it up to the utilities to develop those vegetation management plans,” PSC Executive Director Linda Birdwell testified.

Lexington city officials have been in discussions about tree cutting in the city for several months. Mayor Linda Gorton has worked with the PSC, and the city filed in court, but current state law gives cities little leverage. Lexington is still working to reach an agreement on how to address the issue.

Utilities can act on their plan without local input, and PSC refers any question or concern it receives back to the utility. “How much power do we give a nongovernmental entity?” Lexington resident Diane Atchison questioned. Kloiber argued the current system “removes a large portion of the oversight.”

Those testifying on Tuesday urged legislators to pass an amended version of House Bill 485 to give Lexington and other local elected officials a stronger voice in the process.

No one disputed that utilities must maintain vegetation around powerlines and equipment. However, removing trees in some areas can alter a neighborhood’s landscape and impact stormwater runoff.

Tuesday’s testimony called for a change in state law to require utilities to contact local governments before the utility acts and to submit a plan for addressing areas that could see extreme changes in current vegetation.