Battle brews over fruit trees

April 9, 2009 3:50:18 PM PDT
There's a standoff brewing between CenterPoint Energy and Urban Harvest. The energy company is planning to cut down several fruit trees in one of the group's gardens that CenterPoint says are too close to their power lines. But the group says CenterPoint is breaking an agreement that is more than 20 years old. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Volunteers are worried after being told their fruit trees would be cut down whether they like it or not in the next week or two. They're hoping CenterPoint Energy will give them a break.

"(The community garden operated by Braes Interfaith Ministries) provides a lot of food for the poor people of the city, really," explained volunteer Larry Moore.

As much as 12,000 pounds of food is grown per year and donated to the ministries' food pantry.

"We grow the food and give it away to the people that need it," Moore said.

But Moore says CenterPoint has already chopped down some tallow trees and he says his organization has been told by CenterPoint that it has plans to cut down the fruit trees as well.

"I think it's stupid," said Moore. "I think it's asinine, really, that a major corporation would want to do this kind of thing to little fruit trees that feed the poor, really."

There are fewer than two dozen fruit trees -- most of the dwarf variety, Moore notes. He says none will ever be tall enough to interfere with the towering transmission lines. The garden itself has been at the same location for more than 20 years. It was built following an agreement with then-Houston Light and Power Company. Volunteers say there is nothing in that agreement stipulating that trees can't be grown here, though they've been told now that trees must be a minimum of 500 feet from the power lines. Volunteer Steve Hanrahan is asking for an exception. He notes that there's not 500 feet between the electric towers.

He said, "I could understand in some of the residential areas where there's larger tree issues getting close to the wires, but these are small fruit trees. It doesn't seem to make any sense at all."

A CenterPoint spokesperson insists it is taking no action at this time, despite what volunteers say they were told. CenterPoint says its waiting to talk to the head of Braes Interfaith Ministries, who happens to be out of town.

"We have a responsibility to keep our transmission rights of way clear of trees and obstructions so we have immediate and clear access to our facilities at all times for reliability reasons," CenterPoint spokesperson Alicia Dixon told Eyewitness News. "Nothing can be on these (easements)."

A spokesperson also says their general guidelines do allow some trees, if those trees are known not to grow any more than 10 feet in height. CenterPoint also notes that its agreement states it can terminate the agreement at any time.

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