Church Hill community accuses AEP of neglecting power line maintenance, causing outages

Local

A Church Hill neighborhood says they’re fed up with what they’re calling prolonged, frequent power outages that some say they’ve been dealing with for decades. 

Appalachian Power customers living along “Big Elm Road” said, despite persistent complaints, the company has neglected to maintain their power lines, burdened by overgrown trees and brush. 

“It’s complete negligence by the power company,” said Jennifer Hawkins, who reached out to News Channel 11 to look into the problem. 

Hawkins just moved to Church Hill in June of 2018 but she said she’s had about six power outages since then. 

Others, like Dianne Forbes, said they’ve been dealing with the problem for much longer. “I’ve lived here over forty years…We’ve been dealing with issues with Appalachian Power the whole time I’ve lived here,” she said. 

Neighbors said outages last for hours and often days. 

They said it’s not just when it snows. 

“I mean it can rain three or four days and it goes out. The wind can blow really hard and it goes out,” said Forbes. 

 “It’s a never ending problem,” said Bob and Tonya Greer, who have lived in Church Hill for seven years. 

Neighbors said their attempts to get Appalachian Power to fix the problem of overgrown trees have been unsuccessful. 

In an email Hawkins forwarded to News Channel 11, an Appalachian Power employee wrote, “Please understand things such as weather, fallen trees or equipment failure are out of our control and Appalachian Power does not guarantee electric service. It is the customer’s responsibility to ensure they maintain a back-up system that can adequately serve your needs in the event of a power failure.” 

“They say they’re not responsible for cutting off the trees, that we are,” Forbes said she was told. 

Appalachian Power Spokesperson John Shepelwich confirmed in a phone interview Wednesday that it’s their company’s responsibility to keep trees clear of the main line that runs from pole to pole, but not lines that connect to a person’s house. 

Their website also says that the company “will take immediate action to remove the tree if it identifies a climbable tree too close to a power line…a power line taken down by a tree branch, or through other means, poses a serious safety hazard.” 

Mount Carmel’s fire department confirmed that a power line was the source of a fire on Big Elm Road in late September. 

“Top of that walnut tree was probably running about 15 feet in flames,” said Greer. 

Plus, neighbors said frequent power outages are a safety hazard for several people who rely on oxygen tanks. 

“One couple, just a couple houses down, go to a motel every time the power is out so that she can breath,” said Forbes. 

Furthermore, neighbors said that most people in the area rely on wells to get water. That means when the power goes out, they also lose access to water. 

Neighbors said the solution to these many problems is simple. “Take care of it. You’ve had complaint after complaint after complaint, fix it,” said Hawkins. 

Hawkins said she was told that Appalachian Power was planning to fix these problems by the end of this past Fall. 

Shepelwich confirmed this was the projects original timeline but said it was moved back due to the volume of severe weather in the region that he said forced the company to divert contractors elsewhere. 

He said the project is now expected to begin in early January. 

He said it will include tree trimming and infrastructure repairs. 

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