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Property owner owes $41,000 for cutting trees on federal land beside a Kentucky lake

Lexington Herald-Leader logo Lexington Herald-Leader 10/15/2020 By Bill Estep, Lexington Herald-Leader

A $40,000 fine for cutting trees? Yes, if they’re on federal land.

A Northern Kentucky woman has been ordered to pay $41,251 after allegedly having trees cut on federal property to improve the view of Lake Cumberland from a house she owns.

Stephanie R. Watson, of Fort Thomas, was cited for destruction of trees on public property in the case.

The case happened in Pulaski County, where Watson owns a home overlooking the popular lake.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ranger on patrol on the water saw trees cut to the edge of the lake in June 2019, according to the citation. Officers returned to the property and documented trees cut on federal property, Ranger Judy Daulton said in the citation.

The corps operates the lake and holds a strip of land surrounding it.

A view on Google Earth showed the trees standing when Watson bought the property in mid-2018, the citation said.

The house is an income property with an Airbnb listing “touting its view of the water,” the citation said.

The trees that were cut would have blocked the view, according to the citation.

An internet listing from the fall of 2018 showed a view of the water that wouldn’t have existed when Watson bought the property, federal authorities said.

A prosecutor introduced 37 photos of tree stumps at Watson’s trial before U.S. Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram, according to the court record.

Watson told rangers she knew nothing about the trees being cut. However, Ingram entered a judgment against her.

Ingram ordered Watson to pay the Corps restitution for the trees. She has until September 2030 to finish paying.

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