NORTH RICHLAND HILLS (CBS 11 NEWS) – A Vietnam veteran is fighting to keep a utility company crew from digging in his backyard, fearing a 17-year-old tree may die because of their work.

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Robert Hoover, 76, spent 41 years inside what he called a “windowless building” watching radar as an air traffic controller.

Now that he’s retired, he made his backyard a sanctuary where he spends much of his time and enjoys sitting under his shade tree.

But crews from AT&T stopped at his home Monday, saying they needed to dig a hole in his backyard to replace or repair a cable.

“My concern is that they are going to that tree,” Hoover said. “They are going to dig right up against the trunk and there’s roots there. They took our roots before and the leaves turned brown.”

Hoover has never been an AT&T customer but says crews dug into his backyard two years ago and ruined it.  He says he was left to rebuild it and bring his tree back to life again, after they removed several roots.

Crews would need to dig about a 4.5 feet deep and 3 to 4 feet wide hole to find the cable and replace or repair it.

Crews told Hoover they would remove the gate to his backyard if he didn’t let them in to dig.

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North Richland Hills police were called to the home to maintain the peace.

The City of North Richland Hills confirmed that Hoover’s backyard is part of AT&T’s easement, which means they have the right to work in that easement to maintain their lines or cables, even if it means removing gates, fences, trees or other objects.

Homeowners like Hoover say it’s just not fair.

“If it was water, gas, electricity, I’d be out there helping them dig,” he said. “Cable television is not a utility. It is governed by the FCC.”

Crews temporarily stopped their work Monday but said they may return Tuesday to start the digging.

Hoover said he’ll keep fighting.

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