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Elm trees are common in Saskatchewan cities, but they are vulnerable to Dutch elm disease.

After chopping down the wrong customer's trees and saying it didn't have to pay, SaskPower has turned over a new leaf.

The provincially-owned power company has agreed to compensate the homeowner for 13 eight-metre-tall elms it mistakenly cut down, a report from the provincial ombudsman says.

At first, however, the power company said it didn't have to pay, the 2013 annual report released Monday said.

Elms cut down to size

According to a summary of the case, a couple identified as "Gerry and Felicia" [their names have been changed by the Ombudsman] came home one day to find the 13 Siberian elms had been whittled down to a metre tall.

They learned that some neighbours had trees lining their property. Those neighbours asked SaskPower to remove their trees.

A SaskPower tree-trimming crew was dispatched, but it went to the wrong property — Gerry's and Felicia's.

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SaskPower originally said it didn't have to pay, but later changed its mind and compensated the couple.

After the work was done, the crew realized its mistake and apologized, but when the couple went to SaskPower to get compensated for their loss, they were rebuffed.

In a letter, the power utility informed them that while it took out the wrong trees, it nevertheless had a right to remove them to protect its power lines. Therefore, no money.

The family took the case to the ombudsman's office, which made some inquiries.

It found that not only did SaskPower cut the wrong trees, it also broke the rules and botched the job.

No pruning allowed

For one thing, there was a pruning ban in place at the time.

Environment Department officials told them that the way the tree-chopping was done could cause infestation with bark beetles, which could lead to the spread of Dutch elm disease.

The department said the trees had to be cut down completely, followed by having the stumps ground out or treated.

After the ombudsman's office intervened, SaskPower changed its mind and said it would pay the couple.

New ombudsman

The report, which didn't say where the tree-chopping happened or how much money the couple got, is the first to be released by the province's new ombudsman, Mary McFadyen.

She follows Kevin Fenwick, who dealt with many of the cases contained in the report.