The Six Nations Haudenosaunee and the City of Hamilton are trying to save as many trees as possible from Hydro One's plan to clear-cut a section of land in the Red Hill Valley.

A line of hydro towers running 1.6 km along the Red Hill Valley Parkway from Glen Castle Park to the brow of the escarpment have been standing over residents since the 1960s. 

Since that time, the power authority has periodically trimmed back trees every few years as needed, keeping regulatory clearances between vegetation and hydro lines, while also leaving the undergrowth to thrive.

"It's basically a cost-cutting measure. Someone has decided that it's cheaper to visit once every 10 or 15 years rather than every two or three to keep an eye on things."
- Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins

Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins said residents in the area and the Six Nations community have always understood and accepted this maintenance practice from Hydro One. There was never any issue with trimming back the vegetation, he said, provided that crews were just trimming.

Cost-cutting measure

According to a news release from Hydro One sent to the city late last year, the power authority is seeking to clear the corridor of all vegetation that could grow above two metres in height. 

The result will be nothing less than a clear-cutting, Collins said, all just to save money for the organization.

"It's basically a cost-cutting measure. Someone has decided that it's cheaper to visit once every 10 or 15 years rather than every two or three to keep an eye on things," he said. 

Several months ago, Hydro One cleared the vegetation in the hydro corridor along the Beach Strip. The section of land along the Red Hill Valley Parkway is next on their list.

Collins sits on the Red Hill Valley Joint Stewardship subcommittee and has been meeting with representatives from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council regarding this issue. He said there are two points of contention with Hydro One's plan to clear-cut the area.

Environmental concerns

First, the Six Nations community views the Red Hill Valley land as sacred. In meetings with Hydro One, the joint stewardship committee requested the authority trim back the vegetation like they always have, or allow the City of Hamilton to look after this work for them.

The land in question is owned by the city but Hydro One has an easement, giving them the ability to maintain the lines. In response to the city's request, the power authority said only its workers are permitted to clear vegetation around these lines.

Aaron Detlor, legal advisor for the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council, said in a news release the trees in this corridor can not be cut without permission from the Red Hill Valley Joint Stewardship Board. While talks between Hydro One and Six Nations community members have taken place, the power authority has not budged in negotiations.

In the mid 2000s, the Six Nations Haudenosaunee community fought against the construction of the Red Hill Valley Parkway and ended up delaying the project. 

Encroachment issues

The other main group opposed to Hydro One's plan is nearby residents. 

Collins said homeowners on Glen Castle Drive and Forest Hill Crescent have, over the years, expanded their reach beneath the hydro lines, some building gardens or landscaping to improve the area.

"A lot of people have made a personal investment to make the area look a little better. A lot of that investment and effort will be lost through this maintenance process as well," he said. 

Tiziana Baccega Rosa, spokesperson for Hydro One, said homeowners have erected fences and sheds beneath the hydro lines and if crews ever needed to get back there, they would be blocked.

Hydro One is in talks with the City of Hamilton and other stakeholders to figure out the next steps forward, she said. It's unclear whether crews will clear-cut the area entirely or if some vegetation can be left untouched. 

"We're adjusting programs so we're not increasing bills in order to trim trees."
- Tiziana Baccega Rosa, spokesperson for Hydro One

"It looks like it's mostly incompatible," she said, speaking of the vegetation. "Any incompatible vegetation needs to come down."

Likely to start later this year

The corridor in question is 32 metres across, she said. Vegetation in the area hasn't been touched since crews came through in 2007. Typically, Hydro One likes to revisit corridors for maintenance every 6 to 8 years, she said. 

When asked why clear-cutting was necessary, she said it was a cost saving measure.

"As a company with 1.3 million customers, we need to make sure we're very conscious of where we're spending money," she said. "We're adjusting programs so we're not increasing bills in order to trim trees."

It's still unclear as to when this maintenance will begin, Baccega Rosa said, but the goal is to start this process sometime this year. Before it begins, there will be a public consultation period and a more formalized plan put forward.

Hamilton is not the only city to have Hydro One clear-cut a natural area, well-loved by nearby residents. Last year, Guelph had a patch of land reduced to dirt as the power authority moved through to remove "incompatible vegetation." Herbicide was also used on the soil to keep invasive species from growing back.

Baccega Rosa said it was too early to tell if herbicide will need to be used in the Red Hill Valley corridor.

Hydro One is obligated to maintain transmission right of ways in compliance with a number of regulatory authorities including the North American Electric Reliability Corporation.