Federal lawsuit filed against TVA over tree cutting in Knoxville

Federal lawsuit filed against TVA over tree cutting in Knoxville

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Two Knoxville homeowners filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against the Tennessee Valley Authority over its new tree cutting policy.

The suit seeks a preliminary injunction or a temporary restraining order against TVA to protect trees in the common area of the Westminster Place subdivision. It's a development with 44 units on Poets Corner Way and Big Ben Way.

The lawsuit also seeks to protect trees on property belonging to the plaintiffs, Donna W. Sherwood and Jerome Pinn, who both live on Big Ben Way. 

TVA built the transmission lines over some of the Westminster Place property in approximately 1953.

In a new policy for its seven-state region, the federal utility said it was going to cut or remove any trees on its right of way that are more than 15 feet tall or might grow over 15 feet tall.

The lawsuit says TVA marked approximately 135 trees for removal in the subdivision, and the work was slated to begin on Wednesday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Knoxville attorney Donald K. Vowell.

TVA issued this statement in response to the lawsuit Tuesday night: "TVA is reviewing the legal documents filed today. We maintain the right-of-way to ensure the safety of the public, reliability of the transmission system, to keep the costs of right-of-way maintenance low and to meet regulatory requirements. We will respond to the suit that was filed through the courts."

This issue was brought to the Knoxville City Council meeting Tuesday evening.

Many came to the meeting to voice their opinion about TVA's policy to cut down trees that can reach 15 feet or higher.

Juanita Davis Braswell has lived in the Deane Hill area for 27 years and was one of those voices. "They were put in for privacy and for a sound barrier. They are going to cut down those trees and when they do neighbors will be looking right into the parking lot," Braswell explained.

Many were hoping to send a strong message to TVA in hopes for a compromise-- keep the trees without disrupting power lines.

"It's not fair to these property owners. It's destructive to wildlife and it's not necessary and a waste of money to cut down these trees that will never be a threat to these transmission lines," said Larry Silverstein, a Knoxville attorney.

Even after City Council passed a resolution for TVA to reconsider their policy so residents can keep their trees, TVA wouldn't budge.

"It's important for us to stick to our policy because it's a public safety issue. It's a system reliability issue," said Travis Brickey, Spokesman for TVA.

They appreciate the suggestions but they say their focus is safety. "The last thing we want is for someone to get hurt or even worse," he said.

Cost is also a concern.

"To go back and do some trimming and some cutting is costly."

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