'Pay attention and fight back': Couple refuses to let eminent domain dispute slide

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Monday, November 28, 2022
Eminent domain dispute: Wake County couple fights back
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A Wake County couple's once quiet and shaded backyard is now filled with weeds, stumps and the sound of cars driving down the highway.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (WTVD) -- Joy and Albert Rowland have lived in their house that backs up to U.S. 401 for more than three decades.

They've seen a lot of change living in one of the fastest growing areas of Wake County--especially with a heavily traveled road between Rolesville and Raleigh running near their property. In October, frustrated with the latest growing pains left behind from eminent domain, Joy painted and hung a huge sheet in her backyard that read "Thanks Duke Energy." The flag was visible to all drivers on U.S. 401.

The Rowlands were irate after crews cleared out a grove of trees that blocked their home from the busy highway.

"I'm angry," Joy said. "We didn't have weeds in our backyard. It was shaded and wooded. Nice. Now, it's nothing. And now we've got a backyard full of weeds. Well, my husband and I are 70 years old. We can't get back here and weed and all that. We've lived here 35 years and didn't have to do anything before. Why should we have to start doing stuff now?"

Along with the weeds that sprung up since the trees were cut, the Rowlands said more than 42 tree stumps were left behind as the area was cleared to move utility lines.

A portion of the Rowlands' property along U.S. 401 was deemed a permanent utility easement to make way for a new right of way to help the traffic flow along the busy road at Ligon Mill Road.

The utility lines were moved and dozens of trees were cut down by Duke Energy in May to make way for the work. The Rowlands said they reached out several times to Duke Energy and the NCDOT and each claimed the other was responsible for the stump removal and maintenance.

"They could at least have the decency to get the stumps up," Joy said. "You know, so that we could--now that we're going to have to maintain it--we could at least get a riding mower in here."

The couple said they have to live with the noise and eyesore the tree removal created as the neighborhood doesn't qualify for a sound barrier.

"We definitely meet the noise criteria," Joy explained. "But, we don't have enough people that shouldn't make the difference. We were here first."

Some neighbors have moved or listed their homes due to the change in the neighborhood, but the Rowlands said moving is not an option for them.

"I haven't found anything that's comparable," she explained. "Nothing is one level like our house is one level. We have extensive decking. Anything like that you're talking a million dollars. Well, hey, we're also on social security now."

The couple said they will have to learn to live with the noise and the constant view of traffic, but, they want the stumps removed so they can maintain the land.

After months of trying to get answers with no action, the sign went up.

"Our beef with Duke Energy is the stumps," Albert said. "Our beef with DOT--we can't do anything about eminent domain but they do need to compensate adequately."

"They pay a portion of what they think is going to devalue your house and to me, they devalued my house," Joy said.

ABC11 reached out to Duke Energy about the confusion and spokesperson Jeff Brooks replied with the following:

"We are working at the direction of the state. It is ultimately NCDOT's decision whether to pay Duke Energy's tree contractor or another contractor to remove or grind the stumps. On these types of projects, we generally only remove or grind stumps if the NC DOT or other agency that funds the project approves and directs us to carry out the work."

After reaching out to the NCDOT regarding the matter, a media representative replied and took responsibility for the work with the following statement:

"NCDOT is taking responsibility for the stump clearing and plans to handle this matter as part of a pending right-of-way settlement."

The Rowlands' attorney is in talks with the NCDOT to settle the matter and they hope to have the stumps removed soon. Joy Rowland said the lesson she learned is one for anyone living in a fast-growing area: "Pay attention and fight back."