AT&T Thinks You Should Just Take That Tree Off High-Tension Line Yourself

There are some things that you really, really don’t want to handle doing yourself. After a tree took out electric and phone lines on his property, A. in Texas is left with the heavy trunk resting on high-tension steel cables that normally go between the poles. An AT&T told A. during a visit to just remove the tree trunk and let the cables go up. A city inspector and a professional lineman separately told A. that doing so might lead to the cables flying up and taking the utility lines out again, and could also injure or kill the person doing the work.

About 10 days ago (05/24), a storm came through and a tree in my back yard broke off just below the ground. My back property line is framed by power poles at each end and the tree fell between them, taking out two power lines and landing suspended above the ground on two high-tension steel cables that are attached about half way up the poles. The electric utility company (Oncor) came out and restrung their lines over the tree. The lowest electric line is about eight feet above the steel cables right now, but if the tree wasn’t there the distance would be about four feet.

The next day, my back neighbor and I cut the top of the tree back to about a foot short of where it is resting on the cables. What is left is a fairly large 30 feet long trunk, stuck in the ground at one end and resting on the steel cables at the other end. My best estimate is that it weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 pounds, and it’s lying at a very shallow 15 degree angle from horizontal.

I have spent the time since then trying to get the cables cleared, calling and fighting with Oncor (who says they belong to AT&T) and AT&T (who says they belong to Oncor). I have made it clear to all parties that I do not expect them to cut up and remove the tree, and I only want the tree disengaged from the cables so I can cut it up and dispose of it myself. I also sent pictures to a professional lineman I know, who told me if I just cut the tree, the cables would most likely fly up and take one or both electric lines out again and might even snap one or both poles. A city inspector came out, and he also said there was no way I should attempt to remove the tree myself. He is now helping me get this sorted out with the utility companies.

So here’s the complaint: When an AT&T technician came out on 05/30, he of course said it wasn’t AT&T’s problem and he also told me it wasn’t Oncor’s problem. What he told me to just cut the tree off and let the cables fly. I quizzed him to make sure of what he was saying, and he reiterated several times. This was a professional utility services technician, acting as a company representative, telling a homeowner to just release hundreds of pounds of pressure from two high-tension steel cables within reach of an electric line. In order to do so, I would also have to be close enough to the cables to be hit myself. And the cut-off piece of tree on the cables might go shooting off to who-knows-where.

In short, the AT&T employee was telling me to do something that certainly would have caused some damage, probably would have caused a lot of serious damage, and could very well have caused death to me or anyone else helping me. And of course I would have been legally liable for any and all of those outcomes.

What really gets me is that I can’t help but wonder how many people would have just taken that guy’s advice and cut the tree themselves, trusting the technician’s word and unknowingly springing what is akin to a giant electrified mousetrap. I plan to make a complaint to the AT&T legal department and do what I can to make sure that technician is no longer in a position to dispense advice to homeowners.