When a sheriff’s deputy appears at your door and informs you that you have to relinquish your property rights to a city contractor, the very realization that no American truly has property rights any more becomes infuriating. All of this revolved around a tree near a power line, operated by the City of Covington, in unincorporated Newton County, Georgia.
First, let me provide a little background to the story. In the 1970s, our town had numerous power outages due to inclement weather. Mostly, it involved ice buildup on the pine trees near the power lines from the ice storms occurring during mid-winter. Individuals complained aggressively to the city that operates and controls the power in the county to fix the problem. The individual in charge of the repair crews began the operation of cutting the trees along the power lines on the right of way on un-managed and public lands. Over the years, the city contracted this service out and began encroaching onto private property cutting the branches of trees all the way back to the trunk.
In our particular case, none of our trees were really near a power line until 1997 when construction of a home behind my parents’ home resulted in the power lines being moved. At the same time, my parents constructed a shop to house Dad’s numerous woodworking equipment. The city moved the pole to the street near the stop sign and ran the line down the road to the newly constructed home. This put the power line near a pecan tree that had been planted in 1985. The pecan tree is approximately 20 feet from the right of way and is routinely pruned after the fruiting season by the family in order to keep the tree healthy, uniformly shaped, and nut bearing. In fact, the tree had been pruned just this past season.
In moving the power lines and the transformer poles, the city erected the main lines along the main road right over my parents’ property line. The power line stretches through the branches of two pine trees that have stood for about 45 years. The transformer, providing power to my parents’ home, sits 10 feet closer to a pine tree in the front yard. As a result, the city, without my parents’ permission, cut the pine tree limbs almost all the way back to the trunk, which has now caused the tree to be unbalanced, creak with the slightest wind and limbs are starting to split on the tree. In fact, some of the limbs have become fragile and break during high winds. My parents have been trying to save the tree and this past year some ailing limbs were cut; but, the tree may eventually have to be taken down. (see pictures)
Last year, the same contractor that “trims” the tree branches entered the yard of the neighbor across the street and stripped every limb off one side of the tree to the trunk The tree is located at least 30 feet from the power lines and sits about five feet from the home. No one was home when these individuals illegally trespassed and damaged the tree clearly on their property presenting no danger to the power line.
This past Wednesday, the city contractor knocked on my parents’ door and informed my mother they needed to “cut back” the pecan tree as the limbs were touching the power line. In the past, these contractors never even bothered or noticed that tree or any of its limbs. Why this particular day they had their drawers in a wad about the tree is anyone’s guess.
Granted, the limbs in question were small offshoots of a main branch and were barely in contact with the line. In fact, my mom and I had discussed a few weeks ago that those limbs in question would need to be removed after this season. She informed the man at the door they were not “cutting back” the pecan tree to the trunk. This particular tree can produce up to 200 lbs. of pecans in one season. The guy explained they were cutting the tree. She was adamant they would only cut the tree to her specifications; however, the contractor didn’t seem to want to comply. She then informed the man they would cut the tree as she specified or she would bring her gun down there. She told him that she had it in her jacket pocket, which she did.
Needless to say, the contractor called the Newton County Sheriff’s Department while standing on my parent’s property.
It is totally constitutional to carry a firearm or other weapon in any fashion on your own property and at times, we all do as there are feral dogs that run loose in the unincorporated county. As the owner of a small Chihuahua, I have been armed when walking her in the yard due to two incidences of feral dogs entering the yard and approaching us. In fact, the neighbors and their children and grand-children frequently do the same for vermin. No one thinks anything about it. An individual can carry their firearm on their own property for any reason, even no reason at all.
When the sheriff’s deputy approached the door, my mother put her gun on the table then went outside to the deputy. I accompanied my mother outside to bear witness to the encounter. The deputy informed us that the contractors had reported my mother threatening to shoot them. My mother told the deputy she never threatened them but told them they were not “butchering” her pecan tree; they could prune it according to her specifications and if they didn’t, she was bringing her gun down there. Once it was confirmed there was no threat of “shooting” against the contractors, the deputy stated to both of us that she needed to leave the gun in the house as she couldn’t be carrying a gun down there. Now, mind you, these contractors for the city are on my parents’ property, she is on her own property, and the deputy is saying you can’t carry the gun on your property with the contractors on the property – uninvited.
Immediately, I said to the deputy, “Now wait, it isn’t illegal to carry a gun of any type in any fashion on your own property.”
He confirmed that was the case, but said you can’t go around issuing threats. By this time, my Dad was on the scene. He piped up that there was no threat. What occurred next was absolutely shocking. The deputy informed my mother the contractors had a job to do and they were going to cut that tree without any problems. My mother said they can cut the tree; but, only the branches that she approved to be cut. She reiterated they were not going to cut the branches back to the trunk.
The deputy stood next to my mother the entire time while she directed the cutting. Now, these contractors can trim using a boom truck without trespassing; however, they have to clean up the trimmings which means these individuals have to trespass on private property to do so, if they do not get permission – as happened across the street. Needless to say, the contractor doing the cutting became a rear end cutting a branch that was nowhere near the line just to be contrary and show that he could. I pointed that out. The deputy didn’t like that, so I got an interesting look.
The question becomes, “at what point did Americans lose the right to direct what happens with their own property?” There shouldn’t have been a problem with the pruning of the tree after the fruiting season. In fact, my parents routinely prune their trees as responsible property owners to maintain the health of the trees.
The city, however, has brutally butchered trees on their property and others’ as well, creating a danger. Not only that, the city contractor never touched or asked about trimming the two pines trees previously damaged by over butchering that could affect the main power lines they erected through the trees in the first place. It is understandable that trees on public property or un-managed property would become a danger to the power lines in the event of the occasional ice storm. However, trees on privately owned property, that are clearly being cared for, should not be unscrupulously and illegally “trimmed,” butchered, or cut without the property owner’s permission. Contractors and city employees should respect the owner and trim the trees according to their specifications, as much as possible.
The only purpose for the city and their contractors to butcher a tree as they do is preventing the contractor from having to return yearly or every other year to clear limbs from near or around the lines.
In fact, the City of Covington should plan better on where the power lines are set. Granted the trees weren’t a problem when the city erected the lines; however, did they honestly think that trees don’t grow? Shouldn’t the city place transformer poles and power poles that carry the lines more on the right of way and not on a property line? And, a sheriff’s deputy, who is supposed to uphold the Constitution, was all too eager to help infringe on God-given property rights and support a city contractor in violating property rights, instead of supporting the home owner from having their property damaged by individuals who had no interest in respecting the owner – an owner who would have pruned those branches after the fruiting season anyway. The tree limbs would not have grown to infringe the lines within that time frame.
This situation demonstrates the mind-set of some law enforcement these days, along with contractors, local governments and city employees who have the belief the “government and its operation trumps all.” Citizens – law-abiding, property owning, tax paying individuals – are treated with an almost contempt for exercising their property rights and demanding respect be paid when actions involve their property. This is a travesty that should not have to be suffered in a country where government “is instituted among men” to protect God-given unalienable rights.
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