Unanswered questions about Benton Harbor storm damage

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. - If a city owned tree falls on your house, is it your responsibility? That was the case today in Benton Harbor and the city doesn’t want to talk about it.

A large limb from a tree, between the sidewalk and the street, fell and damaged a house on Thresher Street Thursday morning. According to the homeowner, the city said he was responsible for the damage and removal.

83-year old Willie Stokes woke up to the sound of a tree falling. “I didn’t know where it was,” he said looking at the sawed up limb. “I didn’t think it was here.”

Stokes said he was surprised to see the limb of the tree on the roof of his home but was even more surprised when the Benton Harbor Public Works Department came out and told Stokes it was his responsibility to pay for the cleanup.

The tree is planted about a foot from the curb between sidewalk and the street.

“Right between the sidewalk and the street is considered city property,” said Mitchell Williams with Mike and Mike Tree Service in Benton Harbor.

Williams said it was strange to have a homeowner call and pay for tree removal when a tree is planted in that spot. “Most of the time I do trees that are in the (front) yard or in the back yard but never on the city property.”

The city’s response even makes less sense to Mary Donald, Stokes’ neighbor. Donald said Public Works trimmed branches from a tree between her sidewalk and the street. “You guys came out and trimmed branches off my yard,” Donald said. “This is on (the city’s) tree line and it fell and damaged (Stokes’) house and into his yard and I don’t think that’s fair.”

ABC 57 News attempted to get a comment from both Public Works Director Darwin Watson and Deputy City Director Debbie Popp about Benton Harbor’s policy. Both refused attempts by ABC 57 (see video).

 It seems that Stokes is left with an $800 bill for a tree he says isn’t his responsibility. “If there was money coming out of it, it would be the city getting it,” he said. “I wouldn’t be getting a quarter.”

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