Debbie Lane Goodman was a kid in 1986 when her family planted an oak tree sapling near where 20 Mile Level Road and Black Jack Lane meet.
Back then, there was no Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex to the west, or even a Plantation Palms community to the north. Just two years before, the 10 acres of land Goodman’s father owned was filled with orange groves, the primary source of income for her family.
But a rare snowstorm in 1984 killed those trees, and emptied the land. The state helped by donating some pine trees to plant on the property, but the oak tree would become a symbol of perseverance for the family.
Today, Goodman uses the former orange grove land to provide horse-riding lessons, and keep various ranch-style animals. The oak tree is still there, now towering over the rest of the tree line, providing a majestic feel to property that was once part of a 19th century stagecoach route to Tampa.
But if Duke Energy gets its way — and it almost certainly will — that tree will become a part of history.
“They’ve destroyed my land, and now they’re going to take my trees down,” Goodman said. “They just came out four years ago and shaved the trees, and told us that’s all they were going to do. They said they didn’t need to cut any trees, and that it’s not even on their line. But then they came back and said we’re going to cut them all down.”
The property damage, Goodman said, came from heavy trucks that were used to replace the poles along the edge of her property from wood to steel last month. Duke did not fix divots its trucks created in the ground, although the utility did bring in a load of dirt so that Goodman could fix the land herself.
The tree is one of more than 30 Goodman said she believes is going to come down along Black Jack Lane. She is not sure, because Duke never reached out to her directly about the tree removal, and all of her information has come from the tree-cutting crew itself.
“I asked my dad, I asked my neighbors, and none of them have received anything,” Goodman said. “The only thing we have is the tree people, and they are at the bottom of the chain. They don’t really know anything. And how do we know that these guys aren’t just doing this because they want more jobs?”
Duke, which bought Progress Energy in 2011, says it works to keep open lines of communication with residents and businesses that might be affected by the tree work along power lines. While the trees and even lines might be on other people’s property, each line path has an easement that typically grants the utility 50 feet on either side of the pole.
“Generally, when we’re doing this type of work, we will put a letter out to each homeowner, each resident, that is adjacent to the easement,” Duke spokesman Sterling Ivey said. “We generally have staff walking the neighborhoods and knocking on doors, leaving door hangers. We try to do a lot of it proactively.”
Yet, Goodman and neighbor Eddie Midili said they’ve received no such communication. In fact, the only time Midili said someone from Duke contacted him was when a representative of the company knocked on his door and gave him paperwork from 1959 she said showed where the easement was.
“She said, ‘We’re claiming the land back,’” Midili said.
Trees came down last week at the neighboring Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex, leaving stumps in a parking area near an athletic field that once supported cabbage palms and oaks.
Brian Taylor, Pasco County’s parks and recreation manager, said he received a letter from Ashley McDonald, a vegetation management specialist with Duke Energy, which described exactly which trees had to be removed. Those trees, Taylor said, would cost the county a little more than $1,700 to replace.
Duke cuts and trims trees as a way to protect lines, not just from branches growing into lines, but also to try and prevent power line issues during major storms where winds could blow vegetation into the lines. It’s not required to remove stumps, but will make mulch available to interested homeowners who would like to recycle those trees, according to the utility’s website.
Duke also does not replace trees it removes, leaving those costs the responsibility of the affected property owners.
“We try to take the trees down as low as we possibly can,” Ivey said. “If a customer has concerns about some stumps that might have been left, and especially if they have some animals or horses in the area, I would encourage them to call our customer service center to see what help there might be.”
The line clearing project started in May, and stretches from Tarpon Springs to Zephyrhills, Ivey said.
Goodman and her neighbors have tried to talk Duke out of removing the trees, but know they won’t be successful. So now they’re having to figure out what life will be like on their property with the lights from the recreation complex streaming in, and what will now be an unobstructed view of the overgrown 12th green at the currently closed Plantation Palms Golf Club.
“When they did all this before a few years ago, I gave up some trees, and Debbie gave up some trees,” Midili said. “We didn’t like it, but whatever we had to do, we would do. But now, they want to go overboard on it, and it’s just not necessary. They need to come out and see what kind of damage they’re doing.”
Anyone with questions or concerns for Duke, Ivey said, is urged to call the company’s customer service line at (800) 700-8744.
Published September 17, 2014
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