Safe management of power line trails
An update on planning and managing trails along power lines.
By Gary Holisko
Trails are often built in utility corridors of all kinds, from underground pipelines to electric power lines overhead. Over the years some articles have raised concerns, apparently unfounded, about electro magnetic fields (EMF) emanating from power lines. But other factors are more important when managing utility line trails. Mr. Holisko brings us his perspective on these corridors:
From an operational perspective, EMF is not much of an issue for trail activities. Use is transient, so exposure is limited. What people react to is what they notice. Working for an electric utility, and being a supporter of public uses on powerline rights of way, I deal with a number of concerns and questions about high voltage lines and people. I see three kinds of concerns expressed about public use of powerline rights of way:
In our part of the world, we have many-fast growing, tall trees that tend to get knocked over during high winds and storms. They also knock down power lines. (So do drunk drivers, but that's another story.) Because transmission lines carry large volumes of power, rights of way are kept clear of tall growing vegetation both to avoid power outages, prevent forest fires and avoid possible electrocutions (sap in trees is an excellent conductor).
Some people who are given better access to transmission towers via trails, etc. have this peculiar idea they should therefore climb them! Although rare (and obviously stupid!), it causes concern to the extent that some authorities require fencing be put around the base of the tower.
Electro magnetic fields
Induction from the power lines
We call these 'nuisance shocks' because while they are below the level to be considered a safety issue, they are none the less annoying.
Of the three, EMF gets the headlines, but it is really the other two which we tend to deal with on an operational basis, in terms of both providing the protection to the public and managing complaints.
A related concern is the impact of powerlines on property values. A recent Wisconsin EIS suggested impacts from zero to 14 percent. Two studies (Ignelzi & Priestley, 1992, California, and Hamilton & Schwann, 1995, British Columbia) found that where the rights of way were used for public uses that property values either were not affected or in fact enhanced by having park or open space adjacent.
Published in Spring 2003 Trail Tracks
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Updated March 16, 2007