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Hacienda Village neighbors angry as trees are cut down as part of I&M project

Published: May. 9, 2022 at 5:41 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne’s NBC) - Neighbors in the Hacienda Village neighborhood are upset and claim Indiana Michigan Power is coming in and destroying the beauty of their neighborhood.

The company hired a contractor that is cutting down trees and it’s part of a project the neighbors have fought for more than a year. The power company is set to put up new power lines and towers.

“AEP is lowering our home value, they’re depreciating the value of our neighborhood,” Neighbor Melissa Branum said. “It’s all for the bottom line profit for their company.”

Branum says she bought her home in the Hacienda Village neighborhood because of the scenery full of mature trees. Now, she’s watching as the tree service contracted by I&M cuts down her neighbors trees, clearing a path for a new project.

“If they needed to do construction to remove the lines, we’d understand, but we have a lineman who works in our neighborhood and says they replace these lines all the time. They replace these poles all the time,” Branum said. “In fact, they replaced one farther down in the neighborhood and they didn’t have to remove a single tree.”

Heather Rice also lives nearby and agrees.

“It’s been about a year of fighting and standing our ground with AEP,” Rice said. “Last week they come barreling down with police and 20 trucks cutting down people’s trees.”

When we showed up Monday morning, the tree service trucks lined heather the street. The company’s workers were hard at work clearing the trees throughout the neighborhood.

Neighbors have voiced their frustration to workers on site. They believe I&M officials have not been as transparent as they could have been. They say last year, American Electric Power, which is the parent company of I&M, went door to door asking them to sign a new easement agreement. Rice and Branum say they refused to sign the new contract. They worry it would violate their mortgage agreements and take the power out of the homeowner’s hands and put it with the power company.

“We are supposed to have appointments set up with them today and they cancelled and are continuing construction and continuing to cut things down,” Branum said.

So, is I&M allowed to do this? Company leaders say they’re not violating any agreements.

“We have sent letters to all of the property owners well in advance explaining to them what our plans are and what we’re going to do,” Indiana Michigan Power Spokesman Tracy Warner said. “We are staying in communication with them... We’ve been meeting with them individually.” :09

Warner says he understands people are angry and he hopes they will be able to see what he calls long term benefits of this project.

“We understand that you’re our neighbors,” Warner said. “We value trees, we’re doing everything we can to preserve what we can.”

As work continues in the hacienda village neighborhood, people living in the construction zone are hopeful they’re able to save their neighborhood’s trees.

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