Pastor angered by tree cutting launches protest

EATON, Ind. (AP) — As Pastor Penelope Brown rocked on her front porch glider Monday morning, an Asplundh Tree Expert Co. truck drove past, “calling forth in me a very unpastoral response.”

She didn’t share the thought but minutes earlier had called the tree clearance contractor “paid assassins” for energy provider Vectren Corp.

And she has spray painted messages on the shade trees that Vectren intends to cut down along Meridian Street in front of her house: “God creates, Asplundh Destroys,” ”Tree Killers,” and “You Will Pay.”

After a relative joked that the last message could get Brown in trouble with the National Security Agency, she edited it to read, “You Will Pay — God.”

“I believe we should be held accountable for what we do to the earth,” Brown told The Star Press as an Asplundh crew cut down other trees in her block.

Vectren left a flier in her door recently. “It said they have a right to cut down my trees and they’re going to do it,” said Brown, pastor of First Christian Church. “I emailed Vectren and they assigned me a case number. They have not called back yet.”

Two maple trees tower over the west side of Brown’s two-story house. “What am I supposed to do about shade when they cut them down?” she asked. “I’ll probably put up some ugly bamboo curtains on the porch that will cut off the breeze.”

She calls Eaton “a small town with no power, no clout” and a “thriving drug culture,” so she is not expecting any help in her protest.

She also said she telephoned a federal agency to find out how many times tree roots have caused natural gas pipelines to explode. “They didn’t have any statistics but said if a tree were struck by lightning it could be a conduit to the pipeline and cause an explosion,” she said.

According to Vectren spokeswoman Natalie Hedde, the pastor lives above a six-inch, high-pressure, natural gas distribution pipeline that runs from Hartford City to Eaton.

“It’s inaccurate to say we are cutting the trees down to prevent an explosion,” Hedde said.

The reason for the tree clearance in Eaton is to maintain Vectren’s ability to access the pipeline for maintenance, inspection, testing and emergencies, Hedde said.

While tree roots can wear away the protective coating that prevents corrosion of a pipeline, “we have no reason to believe” Brown’s tree roots are threatening the pipeline, Hedde said.

It’s a matter of routine maintenance of the company’s right of way. “In emergencies, we can’t be hindered by having to remove trees in addition to getting down to that pipeline,” Hedde said.

The gas company also says Brown isn’t even the owner of the house; she’s just a renter. Vectren already obtained permission from the owner to remove the trees.

“The dispute is between the property owners and Mrs. Brown, not Vectren and Mrs. Brown,” Hedde told The Star Press.

Brown lives in the church parsonage. The church’s board of directors owns the parsonage.

Now that Vectren is aware of the dispute, the company will give the board of directors and Brown time to discuss the situation, Hedde said.

“I don’t think we’re ready to say what we’re going to do,” Hedde added. “We want to work closely with our customers. We want them to understand why we are doing this: to maintain the continued safety of our infrastructure.”

On Wednesday, Brown said the chairman of the board of directors said it may be possible “to at least postpone it for a while to see what we can do.”


Information from: The Star Press,


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