Vegetation

Empire has an extensive integrated vegetation management program designed to keep our system safely and reliably delivering electricity to our customers. This department is assigned with the task of managing the vegetation on nearly 7,000 miles of lines.

Why Vegetation Management is Necessary

Empire customers have seen the devastation first hand that trees can cause to power lines. The damage caused by fallen branches and trees can result in outages to numerous customers. Empire's vegetation management program addresses trees and brush encroaching the utility right of way, the cause of outages.

Empire's serves customers in four states, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Arkansas. Each state has a service commission mandating the minimum requirements that Empire's vegetation program must achieve. Based on these regulations, Empire has developed a cyclical maintenance schedule with mid-cycle surveys for each circuit.

Empire’s vegetation management’s mission is to maintain a high level of service reliability by limiting outages caused by vegetation.

Tree Trimming and Removal

In order to adhere to both federal and state requirements, utilities must remove vegetation growing near power lines. A regular maintenance plan for power lines can help prevent outages caused by trees and branches.

Empire reminds customers never to trim trees near power lines. If you need assistance, call Empire at 800-206-2300. All vegetation inquiries are handled through our call center to monitor customer inquiries and responses.


Who is responsible for trimming and debris removal?

Pole to pole
Empire is responsible for maintaining the lines between poles. If you believe that tree limbs, broken branches, or other hazards may cause issues on lines between poles, please contact Empire so vegetation management personnel can inspect and assess the situation.

Pole to meter
This is called a service line. It delivers the electricity from Empire’s lines directly to your meter. Maintenance of this line is the homeowner’s responsibility.

Drop service request
If you have trees that need to be trimmed near your service line, Empire will disconnect the service wire free of charge to allow for safe tree work for you or your contractor. Please call 800-206-2300 to request this service at least 48 hours in advance of tree work. This advance notice will allow us to schedule a crew to drop the service. We request that you, your representative, or your tree contractor be present when your service is disconnected.

Tree Removal
If you would like to remove a tree within 10 feet of a pole to pole line, please contact Empire at 800-206-2300 to have it inspected at no charge by an Empire vegetation management representative. They can inspect the line and determine if Empire needs to trim or remove limbs so you or your contractor can safely remove the tree. The homeowner is responsible for the debris removal.

Debris Removal
Empire will chip and remove limbs from routine line clearance work. Logs will be cut into manageable lengths and stacked on the property unless property owner contacts Empire prior to the trimming to request removal of the logs. The property owner is responsible for materials they request to have left on their property.

Storm Work
Empire does not clean up brush, limbs, or trees from storm related work. Our priority is power restoration to our customers. We will clear all fallen trees and limbs from Empire lines in a safe manner to restore service and prevent recurring outages. All logs and limbs are left on site, and crews will not return to remove them.

Tree Planting Guidelines

Whether it’s spring, summer, or fall, if you plan to work on your landscaping, following a few tips can ensure you pick the right tree for the right location.

tree planting
Small Tree Planting Tips
1/30/2015
Tree Planting Tips
7/18/2012

For more information regarding planting trees in your neighborhood, visit the Arbor Day Foundation's Right Tree, Right Place Web site or our Utility Arboretum.

Utility Arboretums

Empire is proud to provide utility arboretums for our customers. The utility arboretum is a place where customers can see living examples of proper tree selection and placement in relation to an existing power line. This unique educational tool was designed to enhance the safe and reliable operation of the electrical system while preserving the health and beauty of the landscape. Customers can visit utility arboretums in Ozark, Missouri, and Joplin, Missouri.

In Ozark, the arboretum is located behind the Ozark Recreation Center, one-half mile east of Highway 65, just off Jackson Street. The Ozark arboretum is a joint effort of Empire, Missouri Department of Conservation, and the Parks Department of the City of Ozark.

Ozark Arboretum

In Joplin, the arboretum is located in Landreth Park, one-quarter mile east off of Main Street on Murphy Boulevard. The Joplin arboretum is a joint effort of Empire and the City of Joplin.

Joplin Arboretum

Additional Services and Information

Transmission right of ways

To control vegetation growth underneath and on both sides of a transmission structure, Empire utilizes a zoned approach. The zone directly underneath and 20 feet beyond the wires is called the wire zone. Empire encourages growth of grasses and other low-lying plant species.

The zones on either side of the transmission structure are called the border zones, where scattered shrubs and dwarf trees are allowed.

Beyond the border zone, plants of any height are managed by the hazards they may present to the lines.

wire zone
Contractors

Empire utilizes several contractors for both vegetation management surveying and tree trimming. Our contractors are recognized as professional companies who utilize approved arboricultural standards.

These companies are visible in both urban and rural areas when they are performing their jobs. We encourage customers who have questions about personnel on or near their property to ask if they are affiliated with Empire.

Empire employs the following contractors:

Planning Services

acrt

Tree Trimming Services

wright
shade tree
application specialties

Heavy Equipment Contractors

mid central contracting
kenny singer construction
n-d mand contracting
Door cards

Once an Empire contractor has surveyed your property and determined that you do have trees that need to be trimmed for the betterment of the system, a door card will be left at your residence outlining the work that needs to be completed.

Distribution Line Door Card
Transmission Line Door Card

Equipment and tools

In many instances Empire contractors will utilize conventional trimming techniques through the use of chain saws. Other times contractors will mechanically clear an area. These tools are site nutrient recycling tools; mowers, side trimmers, and tree grinders.

In addition to trimming, Empire contractors utilize a variety of herbicides to control vegetation growth. All herbicides have met rigorous testing by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are prudent tools when used according to label directions. Herbicides are the preferred method of control because they inhibit re-sprouting, thereby reducing the need for repetitive cutting; and through selected application to undesirable invasive plant species, we can promote bio-diversity to benefit wild life. The wildlife habitat is enhanced by the use of herbicides, not destroyed. Plus, they are safe for domesticated animals.

Part of Empire’s vegetation management program is the use of Tree Growth Regulators (TGR) on selected trees. The use of TGR enables Empire to reduce the frequency of trimming away from our power lines. We apply the TGR compound into the soil at the tree’s base. During the growing season, the compound is absorbed by the tree’s roots and travels into the entire tree.

This specially designed compound limits growth in the crown of the tree, resulting in a more stable and balanced tree. Plus, over time trees appear revived and healthier when compared with surrounding trees of the same species.

TGRs have no adverse effect on critical processes that naturally occur in trees, and treated trees require no special care. TGRs have met the rigorous standards set by the EPA. They pose no unreasonable adverse effects to humans, animals, or the environment. Plus, TGRs do not accumulate in fruit or nuts so there is not a risk to wildlife. TGRs may temporarily limit growth on grass or shrubs against the base of the tree, but cause no damage to those plants. Other tree byproducts, leaves, wood, or chips, are safe to use as the compound breaks down into harmless elements.

The use of TGR is a service we provide as part of normal maintenance and at no charge to the property owner.

Debris Removal

Empire specifications in handling debris from tree work in yards are to grind and dispose of limbs and cut and stack wood at the base of the tree or stump. However, Empire works with homeowners during the planning phase to determine what debris will be removed after trimming.

In instances of mechanical clearing, all debris is left on site after it is ground by a large mower.

Storm Work

Empire does not clean up brush, limbs, or trees from storm related work. Our priority is power restoration to our customers. We will clear all fallen trees and limbs from Empire lines in a safe manner that restores service and prevents future outages. However, all logs and limbs are left on site, and crews will not return to remove them.

Free Mulch

The debris left behind from tree trimming and ground clearance is ground up and can be used by our customers as mulch.

If you are interested in receiving a truck load of mulch, please use the form below. Please note, mulch is delivered on an “as available” basis and in the order of request.
Mulch Request Form

Contacts

Jason Grossman, Forester
Vegetation Control Coordinator - Transmission
Send Email

Rob McGovern, Forester
Vegetation Control Coordinator - East
Send Email

Marilyn Ponder
Vegetation Management Administrator
Send Email
It is our desire at The Empire District Electric Company to inform and discuss our vegetation management practices with property owners. If you have questions about Empire's vegetation management program, you may call the Contact Center at 800-206-2300. All vegetation customer inquiries and responses are logged and we strive to return all customer calls within five days.

Why does Empire need to manage vegetation?

Empire prunes trees to deliver safe and reliable electric service. Empire manages the vegetation on and near its rights-of-way (ROW) to keep the system reliable. Trees and other tall growing vegetation that grow close to high-voltage transmission lines can be a hazard. Trees don’t have to touch a high-voltage transmission line to be dangerous. In certain circumstances, electricity can “arc” from wires through the air to trees or equipment, resulting in fires, injuries, or even fatalities to anyone near the tree or equipment. Touching any part of the electrical path can cause serious injury or death. Tree-related power outages are more than just an inconvenience, they can disrupt service to homes, businesses, hospitals, and important community services. In order to prevent these power disruptions, trees close to power lines are removed or trimmed. For all of these reasons Empire maintains an active vegetation management program.

Which overhead power lines do you need to prune for?

common electrical distribution lines

High-voltage overhead power lines are cleared of vegetation. In most cases, these are the lines in the highest position on power poles. Low-voltage or secondary lines, those below the transformer, require less maintenance and are usually cleared during our routine cycle pruning. Service lines to your house are also low voltage, they need pruned only if there is heavy strain or abrasion present. These lines must be cleared by customers or their contractors if they can safely do so.

How often do you patrol and prune for vegetation?

Empire’s service territory is patrolled and pruned every four years in Oklahoma and on a six-year maintenance cycle in Kansas and Arkansas. In Missouri, the service territory is patrolled every four years for urban areas and six years for rural areas on the “routine pruning cycle” in Missouri. The urban area is patrolled once again at two years and the rural area at three years for the and again at either two years or three years, respectively, for the “mid-cycle survey.” Routine Cycle: Trees are inspected and pruned as need to maintain compliance. Mid-cycle Survey: Only trees that will cause outages during the respective cycle are pruned at this time as determined by the utility.

Is the work done by Empire crews or by contractor crews?

Only during emergency situations would a lineman do any trimming. Empire hires qualified line clearance tree companies to do their maintenance pruning. Empire vegetation management contracts with Wright Tree Service and Shade Tree. All companies working on Empire’s facilities are required by the National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to be line-clearance certified in order to work near high voltage power lines. Empire utilizes ACRT, an outside contractor, to provide job planning services.

Does Empire employ certified arborists?

It is important that each tree professional working for Empire be trained in proper techniques and safety. Extensive training is provided by the contractors. We also have both foresters and certified arborists who oversee all facets of our vegetation management programs.

What do the different colored flags and painted dots that are on my tree mean?

The ACRT job planners tie different colored flagging tape around the trees to correspond with the work plan the tree trimming crews receive. The different colored flags indicate:

 Orange tape means the tree is a good candidate for removal, but without the customers approval we will only be trimming it this cycle;
 Blue tape means the tree is a good candidate for removal, but doesn’t need trimmed at this time. If the customer does not agree to removing it, nothing will happen to their tree this cycle; and
 A red dot means tree will be trimmed using natural pruning methods.

As a property owner, do you need my permission to prune?

When our ACRT job planners identify tree pruning to be done on your property, you will be notified in person or with a door hanger. Your permission is not required, because state law mandates that we maintain our lines, and keep them reliable.

How far will you prune my trees from the wires?

The amount of pruning is based on tree growth and structure, wind sway, and line sag. Factors that influence the amount and type of pruning necessary include species of tree, environmental factors, irrigation, proximity of the tree to a line, line voltage, and line configuration. We may need to include a reasonable margin of safety above the absolute minimum clearance requirements. Trees and other vegetation growing in proximity to overhead utility facilities must adhere to federal and state regulations.

What will my trees look like when you trim them?

That depends on a lot of different factors- the proximity of your tree to our lines, the growth habit of the tree, the size of the limbs that need to be removed, the availability of suitable lateral limbs to prune to, and other trimming that has been done to the tree (such as thinning, stubbing or trimming for other utilities etc.). The trimming of trees down the street may not reflect what your trees will look like. Very often trees that are directly under the lines and are taller than the lines will have a “V” or “Y” shape. While this may not be the most aesthetically pleasing form, it is an arboriculturally correct method that will help promote the long-term health of the trees by removing less of the crown.

My trees are not touching any electrical wires, why do you want to trim them?

Your trees may not be actually touching the wires, at this time, but they could be close enough to sway into the lines in high winds. Also, all the trees on this line should be on the same approximate maintenance schedule to improve reliability to everyone on the circuit. It would not be a good use of resources to have each of the 1,000 to 2,000 customers on a given circuit on a different trimming schedule. It is ideal to prune limbs before they cause a problem. By doing so, we can direct the growth away from the lines while the tree is young and resilient.

When will the tree crews arrive to begin trimming?

Tree crews can arrive anywhere between 7 – 90 days after an ACRT job planner has patrolled an area. The residents are notified by the planner in person or with a door hanger notice. At times, scheduling conflicts, emergencies, or other interruptions occur that may alter the schedule. If the work is urgent, crews may arrive in a matter of days. If you have questions or concerns, call the job planner listed on the door hanger or Empire at 800-206-2300.

Why do you need to cut so much?

Our standards are based on several factors - the minimum safe working distance for a tree worker, how far trees sway in high winds, the ability of limbs to break and fall on lines, and the varying growth and regrowth rates of different species of trees. We can never trim enough to prevent all tree outages; however, we attempt to get enough clearance to withstand normal seasonal weather conditions. Empire’s goal is to deliver safe and reliable electric service to you and your neighbors. In order to accomplish this, we need to maintain a safe distance between your trees and our wires.

How should I go about safely trimming the tree branches around my power lines?

You should never get near an electric line or use any kind of equipment close to a line. If tree branches have grown into lines in an alley, street, or backyard utility easement (this includes all major lines except the service lines that go over your property from the pole to the electric meter), you should call Empire so we can schedule an inspection of your property. If the branches have grown too close or into the service line running across your property from the pole to the meter, please contact Empire to schedule that inspection. If you will be doing the trimming yourself, you should call our call center and arrange to have the service line disconnected to safely prune. There is no cost involved to have the line disconnected. You can avoid the expense and inconvenience of calling a qualified tree trimmer by never planting trees that could grow tall near or under the service line.

How can residents help in ensuring that trees are not trimmed?

Residents can help Empire minimize tree-related outages and ensure the beauty of their landscapes through thoughtful planting of new trees. Trees planted near the electric lines should either be low growing shrubs or trees, planted at least as far away from the lines as the trees' natural spread from power lines. Spreading trees, such as elms and oaks, are common outage-causing culprits and should be planted at least 50 feet away from power lines. Before planting trees on your property, the location of utility lines should be considered. Are lines overhead or underground? Never dig near underground utility lines. Future access to these underground lines should be considered when planting.

What safety rules should I follow if I do my own landscaping and gardening?

If overhead electric lines serve your home, never get too close to the lines, and don’t take tools or other objects near the lines. If you have underground electric service, never dig until you know where the lines are buried. To have underground lines located and marked at no charge, call 1.800.DIG.RITE. Please call at least two business days before you start your project.

What about emergencies and storms?

If you see a downed power line or need to report an outage, please call Empire at 800-203-2300. During emergency efforts to restore power, uprooted trees and or broken branches may be removed from the power lines by Empire crews and their tree pruning contractors. Once the vegetation has been cleared from the lines the final clean-up of storm damaged trees and limbs is the responsibility of the tree owner. When outages occur, Empire is only responsible for restoring the electric service. The homeowner is responsible for contacting the phone and cable companies if work is needed to restore those services.

Can I do the work myself?

Pruning trees near electric lines can be dangerous to you and others. Unqualified tree workers put their lives in jeopardy without specialized training or the proper insulated tools required to work near electric lines. Hiring an unqualified tree contractor could put the contractor and yourself at a significant liability risk, should a worker be injured or killed while performing work. Observe the 10-foot rule. If you want to remove a tree or any part of it that is closer than 10 feet to a high-voltage or primary power line, always call Empire’s vegetation management office at 800-206-2300 or by email. When you contact us, we will visit your site and inspect the line at no charge to determine if it is safe for you to proceed. We may determine that we need to assist you by making it safe for you to complete your work. If so, Empire will create a safe distance between the tree and the power lines so your own tree trimming contractor can safely perform the work needed. This is known as a “make safe.” Pruning is scheduled, and the clean up of the cut limbs is the responsibility of the property owner.

Can I prune near the low-voltage service line?

Limbs are pruned during routine pruning cycle only if there is strain or abrasion present. If you are having tree work done and you or the contractor you hire are uncomfortable working near the lines, you may request to have the service line disconnected while you perform the work. Call the Empire call center at 800-206-2300 to request a service disconnect.

Can I get mulch or logs?

Free mulch or logs are available for Empire customers to use. Customers must be willing to accept a full truck load. Use our online mulch request form.

I'm planting new trees on my property, do you have any tips on what to plant?

Planting the Right Tree in the Right Place provides a permanent solution for maintaining reliable electric service. There are many tips through The National Arbor Day site – Right Tree, Right Place. There are also helpful links under tree planting guidelines.

What about tree houses?

any part of a tree holding a tree house is within 10 feet of a power line, it is too close, and the risk of electrocution to children playing in the tree house is very high. Make sure that children cannot reach the lines with a pole or any other object.

Why can’t you put the power lines underground in order to avoid pruning?

This sounds like an aesthetically pleasing and safe alternative to overhead lines, but there are significant challenges associated with undergrounding high-voltage lines. To convert an existing overhead system to underground, all trees and vegetation must be removed or have the roots trenched through in order to bury the underground cable. New easements also need to be negotiated. Undergrounding comes with an extremely high price tag, coupled with longer outages and more difficult repairs in the event of a power failure. You should find out where underground facilities are located before you dig on your property. Call 1-800-DIG-RITE at least two working days before you dig.

Can I plant vegetation near pad-mount transformers?

Please keep vegetation and structures 10 feet from the front and 5 feet from the sides of this equipment. Empire field crews need room to work safely on these devices. Obstructions will cause safety issues and delays when restoring electric service.

Why is Empire cutting more trees on the transmission rights-of-way than they did in the past?

In June of 2007 the North America Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) mandated a new vegetation management standard for all transmission utility owners. Tree caused outages may cause Empire to be out of compliance with this new standard and subject to penalties.

Why does Empire need access roads through landowner property and on the rights-of-way?

Empire acquires, constructs, and maintains road systems that provide access to and along Empire’s transmission lines for the primary use by transmission line maintenance crews. Empire has legal rights, established in the easement, for roads located within the ROW. For roads located outside of the ROW, Empire has rights to use the access for ingress and egress. The goal is to provide safe access and reduced response times for field and line crews during emergency and regular maintenance activities that restore or enhance system reliability.

Does Empire have the right to cut landowner’s trees?

Empire owns a rights-of-way easement along the length of the transmission line. Width varies by transmission line. Empire’s rights within the easement include the right to construct, reconstruct, operate, maintain, and patrol the transmission line. These rights apply to both occupied and unoccupied ROWs. Rights usually reserved to the landowner include the right to cultivate, occupy, and use the land for any purpose that does not conflict with Empire’s use of its easement. In order to avoid potential conflicts, it is Empire’s policy to review all proposed uses within the transmission line rights-of-way easement. In such reviews we consider the safety of the public, the safety of our employees, and the ability to operate and maintain the line.

Isn’t Empire trespassing when they come onto private property?

No, Empire’s easement rights allow us to access private property to construct, reconstruct, operate, maintain, and patrol the transmission line. Empire will make efforts to notify landowners when we are planning to remove vegetation or have performed vegetation clearing.

Who should landowners contact before cutting trees that are near or in Empire’s right-of-way?

Never cut or trim a tree near a transmission line. You should contact Empire’s vegetation management department at 800‑206‑2300, for assistance.

Will Empire top trees in the right-of-way instead of cutting it?

It is Empire’s policy not to top trees within the ROW. Continual topping and trimming of trees that are close to high-voltage transmission lines is not as safe or reliable as removing them.

How often are areas patrolled?

Vegetation management personnel patrol every mile, of every line, every year to inspect all vegetation to insure reliability of the system with an aerial patrol of the transmission lines each year. Other Empire departments may also patrol areas for additional maintenance needs.

If you spot an area of concern or have questions, please contact the Vegetation Management Department at 800‑206‑2300.