Two overreactions don’t make a right.
Well, on second thought ... maybe they do, because the two parties eventually got things straightened out.
But it wasn’t pretty, and both sides acted badly.
In this corner: FirstEnergy, an Akron-based conglomerate whose primary mission is to deliver alternating current to 6 million homes and businesses despite rain, wind, snow, sleet, hail, dark of night and falling tree limbs.
In the other corner: Don and Marie Schnee, who for 32 years have lived in the same well-maintained home on a quiet street in Kent — aka “The Tree City.”
The ugliness first took root in early December, when the Schnees opened a letter from FirstEnergy informing them that the two small holly trees in their backyard, along with a larger maple, soon would be mulch.
FirstEnergy implied that, because of a longstanding easement across the rear of the Schnee’s backyard, the company could pretty much come in and wipe out anything in its path to “ensure we meet our clearance needs” for the power lines, which hang about 40 feet above the ground.
The letter said FirstEnergy had hired a contractor to nuke the trees, and the work would begin in two weeks.
Don Schnee went ballistic.
Granted, the maple eventually could become a threat to the power lines. But the slow-growing holly trees in question stand about 10 feet tall and wouldn’t threaten the power lines in the next quarter century even if they were fed tree spikes full of Barry Bonds’ steroids.
Schnee viewed the upcoming incursion as a blatant abuse of FirstEnergy’s considerable power.
On a form that accompanied the letter, which he was supposed to sign and return to acknowledge the situation and the removal date, Schnee wrote “NO NO NO.”
“I’m not a tree-hugger,” he says now, “but imagine [FirstEnergy’s] widespread rapeage of Mother Nature.”
Fortunately for Schnee, one of his neighbors is a certified tree-hugger.
Tom Cooperrider also is a well-respected botany researcher and author. A professor emeritus of biological sciences at Kent State, his fascination with the Kent Bog led to the state buying it in 1985 and turning it into a 42-acre nature preserve.
Schnee consulted Cooperrider on the holly trees, and the expert told him that, in Northeast Ohio, a cultivated American holly would be unlikely to exceed 20 feet — ever.
Meanwhile, FirstEnergy’s self-described “forestry specialist” was telling Schnee she was willing to replace his holly trees with foliage that would not exceed 20 feet.
In other words: We’ll yank out your existing trees, which will max out at 20 feet, and replace them with something that will max out at 20 feet.
Little wonder Schnee was infuriated. But his reaction was way over the top.
During one particularly unpleasant phone conversation, when a FirstEnergy rep pointed out that the 1951 easement gives the company the right to take the trees, Schnee talked about invoking a “1951 law about shooting trespassers.”
He viewed his comment as mere trash talk. FirstEnergy, of course, viewed the exchange as a legitimate threat, and responded with a certified letter from one of its corporate lawyers, who copied the letter to the Portage County prosecutor.
Schnee, 59, a retired operations manager for Conway Freight in Parma, readily admits that was a dumb thing to say, especially given recent news events.
He made another dumb decision during another conversation, claiming to be a lawyer, which he isn’t.
Toward the end of their battle, FirstEnergy offered him $125 to remove the hollies, but he declined.
Finally, the company relented. It said it wouldn’t touch the hollies and would only take out the maple.
When the crew arrived to do the work, they were accompanied by Kent police.
FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin says emotions run so high in these situations that when a threat is voiced, the bells and whistles sound immediately.
“We’ve had people shot at,” he says. “There was a situation over in Pennsylvania within the last year or so where a guy actually went to jail for assault on something like this. ...
“It happens enough that it’s something we take very seriously. Trees are such an emotional issue.”
Clearly, an emotional Don Schnee crossed the line.
So did the folks at FirstEnergy, who could have avoided the entire confrontation if they hadn’t hugely exaggerated the threat those little trees posed to their lines.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or email@example.com.