GRIFFITH — A tree-clearing project along the Erie Lackawanna Bike Trail is causing a stir with residents and trail walkers, town officials said.
Several trees along the trail are being removed because they are too close to a couple of high-pressure, underground pipelines, town officials told residents Tuesday.
And, because of an interdepartmental communications glitch, the council did not learn of the removals until the trees started coming down, said Council President Rick Ryfa, R-3rd.
The former railroad right of way is now owned by NIPSCO, which has permitted construction of a continuous trail that runs from town to town, said Councilman Tony Hobson, R-5th.
Numerous trees have been planted along the path as it trails across the Region, but many were planted close to the two pipelines
One line is owned by the Buckeye Pipe Line Co., while the other is owned by NIPSCO, which is having the trees removed from the pipeline easements.
"It's a 50-foot wide path for each pipeline," which amounts to about 25 feet on both sides of the line, Building Commissioner Steve McDermott said. "It's federally mandated, it's the Department of Transportation."
He said the tree removal along the pipelines actually began eight years ago in Fort Wayne and has worked its way into the Calumet Region, including Griffith and Highland.
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But Hobson said residents and trail patrons have not seen the last of the trees. More-recently planted trees will be replanted beyond the easement line, and new trees will be planted to replace those cut down.
The town planted at least 20 trees about four years ago, and they are among those to be replanted a little farther away.
The reasons for the pipeline easements are twofold, Ryfa said.
"The pipeline needs to be clear from obstruction both from roots and branches as frequent X-ray inspections are made from the air via drones or other means," he said. "The pipeline needs to be clear of all obstructions to get accurate inspections."
Ryfa said the town has spent a lot of money to beautify its portion of the trail and it still has some leftover funds from a grant received from Enbridge Energy Co.
Additional trees and landscaping will be planted with this money, he said.
McDermott also stressed the tree relocation is not being done because someone "hates trees."
"It's for our safety," he cautioned.