A feud between Duke Energy and the son of a prominent Raleigh developer over a willow tree still is ongoing – nearly two years after the utility filed a lawsuit to cut the tree down.
John Kane Jr., founder of the sports company Race 13.1, refused to let the utility company cut down a 37-foot willow at 1516 Brooks Ave. in Raleigh.
Duke said the tree endangered a high-voltage power line that hangs above the tree. Kane argued that trimming the tree should be enough. Previously Kane cut the 44-foot tree down to 37 feet. The tree stands in Kane and his wife’s front yard. Duke owns a right-of-way to that part of the land, giving the company certain rights to use and access the land around its 180,000-volt transmission line.
But it’s the interpretation of those rights the two parties disagree on.
Duke maintains easements along its power lines to ensure that crews can access and maintain the lines, according to Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks. Kane’s willow tree is under a line “that could affect reliability of service for thousands of customers in the area.”
Duke filed a lawsuit in 2015 to force Kane to allow the utility onto his property to cut down the tree. Judge Brian Collins denied Duke’s request for a preliminary injunction that would let them cut the willow down.
The lawsuit is ongoing, Kane said Thursday. He and Duke participated in court-ordered mediation last week.
We simply want to access a tree under our transmission line, per our easement agreement, to conduct the same proper maintenance that we conduct all across the state to ensure lines remain safe and power reliable.
Jeff Brooks, Duke Energy spokesman
“In the interest of equality and fairness, we accepted Duke’s offer to remove the tree, clean up, grind the stump and plant a low-growing species approved by Duke in its place,” Kane said. “The only condition was that Duke Energy agree to do the same for every residential customer throughout North Carolina.”
Kane said Duke had previously argued that it had to be fair to all its customers across North Carolina and could not give Kane special treatment.
“If Duke Energy violated this agreement, they would be required to donate $100,000 to a charity that we select,” Kane said. “There would be no payment to me or my family, no recovery of legal costs or other expenses incurred related to this case.”
Duke rejected the offer, though, Kane said, citing the high cost of offering the same to other customers in the state. The mediation ended at an impasse, and the case now will proceed to trial.
Brooks would not comment on the status of the case, citing it as an “ongoing, private matter with a customer.”
This is frankly the last thing I want to spend time and money on. It’d be much easier to just let Duke cut down our tree. That’s what everyone else has done and that’s why Duke has continued with these practices.
John Kane Jr., Raleigh homeowner
“We never wanted to file a lawsuit,” Brooks said. “We simply want to access a tree under our transmission line, per our easement agreement, to conduct the same proper maintenance that we conduct all across the state to ensure lines remain safe and power reliable. That continues to be our hope.”
But Kane said he continues to push back against the utility because “the implications of individual rights being trampled by a very wealthy, powerful organization are vast.”
The case itself is insignificant, Kane said, but the issue of a company like Duke with “unlimited resources deploying those resources to impose their will for their profit regardless of right and wrong against individual citizens is of great significance.”
Kane said it has nothing to do with the willow tree, but instead is about standing up to a company that has disregarded individual property rights and “boldly mistreated their customers.”
“This is frankly the last thing I want to spend time and money on,” Kane said. “It’d be much easier to just let Duke cut down our tree. That’s what everyone else has done and that’s why Duke has continued with these practices – which are wrong and need to be stopped.”
Abbie Bennett: 919-836-5768; @AbbieRBennett