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Hamilton farmer tries to save 70-year-old elm trees

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Aug 16 2013 10:59:29 PM MDT
Updated On: Aug 16 2013 11:07:34 PM MDT

Bob Leonardi's father planted the trees in the 1940's.

Now at least some of them are targeted for removal because they have grown into power lines.

HAMILTON, Mont. -

A Hamilton farmer is making a last minute attempt to save the elm trees his father planted about 70 years ago.

The trees and land are now owned by the County Airport, and they've grown into power lines over the years. Northwestern Energy wants to remove at least some of them for safety.

Bob Leonardi knows the branches need to be cleared from the power lines.

"It's a hazard," said Leonardi.

That's why, when he owned them, Leonardi regularly kept the trees short.

"Kept them pruned," said the lifelong farmer, "kept them looking good. But since 2000 nobody's touched them."

That's when Leonardi sold part of his farm to the Federal Aviation Administration and Ravalli County. The elms along Golf Course Road went with the sale. So did the elms leading into the old family farmstead.

The trees may be out of his hands. But they're a sweet part of his life.

"It's something my dad and mother planted," said Leonardi, "and I'd just like to see them there."

Northwestern Energy said at least some of the trees are in poor condition. The power company said it will try to save as many as it can. But Northwestern said it must also provide reliable electric service to customers.

County Commissioner Jeff Burrows said they are gorgeous trees.

"We're sympathetic to take down any trees, especially along roadways," said Burrows.

But he said there are safety issues with those trees. They are aging and brittle. Burrows said they could break in half and create a hazard along the road.

Leonardi said he can't find the paperwork. But he thinks there's a provision in a rental contract that said "cut no trees."

The Federal Aviation Administration said if there is, that would be in its files. But it would need to be researched. Ravalli County said it has found no such provision.

Burrows recommends taking only trees that pose a threat.

"Leave the ones that could be left at this time," said Burrows.

Just prune them, said Leonardi. "It'll take money to do it," he said. "But they can prune and get the job done right."

Whatever happens to the trees, it could happen as early as Monday.