HANCOCK COUNTY — A new tree-trimming machine aimed at saving taxpayer dollars has prompted complaints from residents who say the county’s cost-cutting measure has left hundreds of mangled trees in its wake.
In recent weeks, county crews used a new piece of equipment to trim branches they say posed a hazard to passing traffic along 20 miles of county roads. The new approach allows for a safer and more efficient process over the previous method, which required workers to cut branches with a chainsaw one by one. But residents argue the result — trees that look chopped off unnaturally — isn’t worth it.
County officials say the trees will regain their shape in a few months, but after complaints from residents they agreed to use the new machine only along county roads where no homes are located. In the meantime, residents are grumbling about unsightly scenery.
Randy Moore, superintendent of the Hancock County Highway Department, which performs the tree trimming, said branches were cut back to prevent them from growing into the roadway and potentially damaging passing vehicles.
Last year, the department purchased a new piece of equipment that requires only three employees to operate, Moore said.
The equipment uses a mechanical arm attached to a truck, which is driven up next to the tree. Metal teeth inside the equipment grab the tree’s branches, which are then sent through a wood chipper.
Previously, Moore had to send six or seven workers to do the same amount of work by hand using chainsaws, a process that took longer but often resulted in a more aesthetically pleasing result.
The smaller crew is now able to do the same amount of work as the larger crew in less than half the time, he said. The potential annual cost savings of using the new machine could be as high as $20,000, Moore estimated.
The new machine also is much safer for workers to operate than the previous method, he added.
Marlena Linne of Greenfield said the maintenance has created eyesores throughout the county.
“The ends of the branches are so chewed off and twisted that they look like paintbrushes,” she said. “It’s just ugly.”
Linne said the highway department has done a disservice to the community. She plans to lodge a complaint with the county office.
Several of Linne’s neighbors also are unhappy about the trees, she said.
Brad Armstrong, president of the Hancock County Board of Commissioners, said he’s heard complaints from a handful of residents about the trees since crews completed trimming in December.
The department has revised its technique and will no longer use the machine to trim trees outside of residential properties, said Gary Pool, county highway engineer.
Instead, workers will trim those trees with chainsaws to make them appear more attractive, he said.