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Delta comes up with practical solution to prominent Frankton trees while long term solution is found

Delta has agreed to trim back the row of 29 trees along Ladies Mile, State Highway 6, Frankton following consultation with the Queenstown Lakes District Council and feedback from the local community.

The work is a temporary measure while a long term solution is found for the ongoing maintenance of the prominent row of trees leading into Queenstown.

General Manager Asset Management Derek Todd said that by giving the trees a second trim now so they are a safe distance from the power lines, the community will have more time to consult and identify options for funding a long term solution for the privately-owned trees.

The privately-owned trees were scheduled for removal this week with the permission of the property owner to ensure the trees were clear of the overhead high voltage power lines that supply 2,600 electricity customers in the Arrowtown, Lower Shotover and Lake Hayes Estate areas.

Under the Electricity (Hazards from Trees) Regulations 2003, the tree owner has responsibility to keep trees clear of power lines after the first free trim by the electricity network. In this case, the owner has relinquished their interest in the trees.

"We know that there is support in the local community to preserve the section of trees along Ladies Mile. Our first preference is for the trees to stay and be maintained a safe distance from power lines, as required by law. With nearly 6,000 kilometres of overhead lines on the Aurora Energy electricity network, it would be wrong for electricity consumers to be required to pay for the ongoing costs of trees on private property. Neither Queenstown Lakes District Council nor Delta is in a position to take over maintaining the trees on private land because of the ongoing cost and also the precedent it would set.

"We have been discussing options with Queenstown Lakes District Council since last year and received feedback from the public. Delta has agreed to trim back the row of 29 trees along Ladies Mile, State Highway 6, Frankton as a temporary, one-off measure so further consideration can be given to a long term solution for the prominent row of trees leading into Queenstown.

"By trimming the trees now, at Delta’s cost, we remove the immediate public safety risk of the trees growing into the overhead lines and allow the community more time to find a long term solution.

Mayor Vanessa van Uden welcomed Delta’s decision, which acknowledged the community’s affection for the trees. "The community now has the opportunity to consider what, if any, future options it wishes to fund and how this can be done," she said.

"We have to remember that if the trees and the overhead lines remain where they are, there will always be an annual cost to keep the trees trimmed to secure the power supply. Some entity has to pay for this and take responsibility for the trees. Options could include designating the trees as protected, community funding the ongoing maintenance, removing the trees and replanting a new row of trees away from the power lines, funding the costs of undergrounding the overhead lines. Any option involving ratepayer funding will need to be considered as part of next month’s Draft Annual Plan consultation process," said Mayor van Uden.

Mr Todd said: "For its part, Delta will assess the feasibility of undergrounding or re-routing the lines so that the community can understand the respective costs of different options. The available options will be constrained by the narrow corridor for the electricity infrastructure along Ladies Mile, the New Zealand Transport Agency’s future plans for State Highway 6 and land access.

"Any long term solution will need to avoid setting a precedent where tree owners shift their legal responsibility for maintaining their own trees, and associated costs, onto electricity customers.

"Trees growing into power lines are a major cause of power outages and present a fire hazard. They can damage equipment and prevent crews from repairing equipment quickly, delaying getting the power back on to customers," Mr Todd said.