The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

November 13, 2013

Tree trimming a high wire act

Job requires chopper with saw hanging on cable

By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer

SHARPSVILLE — Trimming trees takes on a different dimension when the job site involves high-tension power lines. If the towers run through a river valley with trees growing on steep hillsides, the job gets even tougher.

That was the problem Penn Power Co.’s owner First Energy Corp. solved Monday from the air by hiring a crew that uses a helicopter to trim trees with a gigantic saw assembly hanging from a cable.

Chuck Jackson, Mercer County area manager for Penn Power Co., said Aerial Solutions, a North Carolina-based contractor, topped trees and sheared branches along a half-mile of the 138,000-volt line between Mahaney Recreation Area of Shenango River Lake to David W. Wallace Bridge at Walnut Street in Sharpsville.

“He did in 20 minutes what it would take a crew two weeks to do working from the ground,” Jackson said.

The company in 1985 pioneered development of its “air saw” made up of an in-line gang of 10 blades for tough trimming jobs along inaccessible rights of way such as powerlines.

The 800-pound assembly, powered by a 24-horsepower engine, hangs 90 feet below the helicopter. Its blades cut branches in a 20-foot swath as the pilot guides the saw along its route, Aerial Solutions’ website says.

Jackson said workers employed by Asplundh Tree Expert Co., Willow Grove, Pa., walked the cutting route afterward and cleaned up the trimmings.

Penn Power had coordinated the job with the Army Corps of Engineers which closed several gates at Shenango Dam to lower the water level in the river, helping to keep branches from floating downstream.

Workers had strung a rope across the Shenango just above the bridge to snag limbs and branches so they could be removed and ground into wood chips. The crew used grappling hooks to pull the debris out of the river for disposal, Jackson said.

Weather has twice affected the job that initially was scheduled for last week. The threat of rain initially postponed it and wind Monday cut the effort short.

Jackson said the utility will work with contractors to decide when and how to continue the work along the river toward Sharon.

“We pride ourselves in the reliability of our transmission system,” he said. “We trim trees and top them so that even if they slide down the hill as they sometimes do, they would slide under the lines and not onto them.”