Christmas tree stumps stick up above the snow below poles and lines owned by Versant Power on land owned by Ervin B. Tower. Tower has sued the utility alleging that workers trespassed on his land in September and illegally but down the trees worth more than $36,000. Credit: Courtesy of Ervin B. Tower

A Patten man has sued Versant Power in Penobscot County Superior Court alleging that company employees trespassed on his land in September and cut down Christmas trees valued at more than $20,000.

Ervin B. Tower purchased his farm in 1981, according to court documents. Four years later, he signed an easement with Maine Public Service Co. to allow utility poles and power lines to cross his land.

That easement says that Tower can grow Christmas trees on the land over which the lines are located. It also says that if power company employees damage the land or remove trees, the firm will pay damages.

On Sept.16, Versant workers cut down 973 trees that were between 3 and 12 feet tall valued at $22 each, according to the complaint filed Friday in Penobscot County Superior Court. That was about one-third of his 2022 inventory, Tower said Monday.

It’s the third time that a power company has come on his property without permission since 2012, according to the complaint. In 2012, he was paid $4,000 after a trespass. Tower was paid $600 in 2020 when workers allegedly trespassed a second time.

Steve Sloan, manager of transmission development and vegetation management, apologized for what had happened and offered to compensate Tower for his loss in an email Sloan sent, dated the day the trees were cut down.

“First, I want to apologize for what happened with the cutting of these trees,” Sloan wrote in an email filed with the complaint as an exhibit. “It should not have happened, and it is very important to us to run our program well, to live up to commitments and have good relationships with our customers. We are taking steps to make sure this cannot happen again.”

Tower claims he is owed $36,000 in actual damages for the loss of the trees, the cost of removing the stumps, some of which are a foot high, the cost of seedlings to replace the lost trees and the labor to accomplish those tasks.

The complaint said that if a judge finds that Versant acted negligently, Tower is entitled to double the actual damage amount, or more than $73,000. If a judge finds that Versant acted intentionally or knowingly, Tower is entitled to triple damages or more than $110,000, the lawsuit claimed.

Versant has not yet filed an answer to the complaint but will move to dismiss it, Judy Long, communications manager for Versant, said Monday.

“We believe the complaint is without merit,” she said.

Maine Public Service merged in 2014 with Bangor Hydro to create Emera Maine. Versant’s Canadian parent company acquired Emera Maine in 2020.

Tower said Monday that he worked well with Maine Public Service employees, but the lines of communication have not been as open with Versant.

He filed the lawsuit after the power company allegedly did not follow through on compensating him for the loss.

Tower did not plant the trees that were cut down. They grew there naturally, but he spaced and shaped them, he said Monday. Tower plans to let trees grow back in the same area naturally.