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Homeowners fight Duke Energy to stop cutting down trees

One says he stands to lose $206,000 worth
Posted at 6:00 AM, Nov 17, 2017

SYMMES TOWNSHIP, Ohio – Angry homeowners are taking legal action to stop Duke Energy from cutting down their trees. 

"It feels like we're being bullied," said Kim Wiethorn.

Dozens of homeowners have taken steps to prevent the utility from cutting down swaths of trees like it already has in yards in Deerfield Township.

Duke Energy is cutting down trees – not just trimming them – in a path within 50 feet of overhead transformer lines. A utility spokesperson calls it a critical safety issue.

But one homeowner says Duke wants to take out $206,000 worth of trees in his yard, and others complain about losing privacy and property values.

Fred Vonderhaar of Symmes Township says he has too much to lose.

“These trees here … basically in the past they've come and trimmed them and cut them back so they don't grow into the power lines and now they actually want to chop them off at the ground,” Vonderhaar said.

“There's $206,000 worth of trees here.”

Homeowners filed a class action complaint with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Wiethorn looks at the pine trees in her backyard. They separate her house from an apartment complex.

“With these gone, I’ll be looking into apartment buildings,” she said.

She got a notice on her door over the summer that Duke was coming to do its every six-year maintenance. But this time they had hand written that they were going to remove all trees 50 feet of center from the transmission lines.

“It's really going to hurt our property values here in Symmes and Montgomery and Deerfield and we have a beautiful area,” Wiethorn said.

But Duke spokesperson Sally Thelen said it’s necessary.

“The vegetation doesn't even have to actively touch a transmission line to cause an outage,” Thelen said.

Thelen said the change in policy stems from the widespread 2003 blackouts caused by vegetation around a transformer.

“As a company we're adapting the practice of adhering the same trimming practices for our higher voltage transmission lines as we are for our lower voltage transmission lines,” she said.

But Duke is going over the line, Wiethorn said.

“I knew there was an easement, but I was not aware that they were going to change try to change the guidelines and come out and just totally strip my yard of all the trees,” Wiethorn said. “Had I known that, I might not have moved into this area or chosen this house.”

Homeowners hope to know in a matter of days whether or not PUCO will order Duke to cease and desist until a decision can be made. Ultimately, homeowners want that commission to make a clear decision about how much cutting Duke can do.