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'Stop Transource' plans more meetings to protest power line

Written by Jim Hook/The Chambersburg Public Opinion | Sep 21, 2017 4:20 PM
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Jan Horst, a Marion farmer, picked up a sign after and informational meeting about the Transource power line on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (Photo: Jim Hook / Public Opinion)

(Quincy Township) -- People from across Franklin County are hoping to find ways to challenge a project that threatens full use of their properties and the community landscape.

About 250 people - from the owners of preserved farmland to homeowners at the Penn National golf course community - squeezed into the Quincy Community Center on Tuesday to hear how they might impact a proposed power transmission line.

Transouce wants to route a high-voltage power line through eastern Franklin County. The company is reviewing several possible routesbefore choosing one to submit to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission. Some paths follow the valley just east of Chambersburg. Others hug the Michaux State Forest near Fayetteville.

Many people on Tuesday vowed to keep attending meetings to stop the 13-story-tall towers and buzzing power lines.

The large turnout "demonstrates a need to continue to provide information to the people and that we should continue top meet as a community," said Katie Hess, director of the South Mountain Partnership.

Stop Transource, which hosted the meeting, plans another meeting focusing on the process of eminent domain or land condemnation, according to spokeswoman Karri Benedict. A date has not been set.

"We feel that there are many misconceptions about what the rights of property owners are in the process," she said. "We have heard it voiced that 'if I don't accept what they offer, they will just take my property and I won't get anything for it.' Nothing could be further from the truth. People need to know that they have a right to object to this power line being constructed on their property, that they have protections under the law. Facing eminent domain can be hard, but it is not a foregone conclusion that the property owner will come out the loser."

A public utility can take a right-of-way for a power transmission line on private property, even if the property is preserved farmland.

The irony is not lost on farmers who are accustomed to being stewards of their land. They would be unable to construct buildings in the utility's right-of-way.

"It's upsetting," said Richie Baker, whose family farm includes preserved farmland near Five Forks. "You give up the right to use your land, and they take that away from you."

About a half dozen of farmers attending the meeting, by a show of hands, had agreed to keep their farms in agriculture forever by selling their development rights.

Douglas Wolfgang, director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Farmland Preservation, said at the meeting that preserved farmland has no more protections than farmland enrolled in an Agricultural Security Area. Farms in ag security areas are not protected from public utility easements.

Wolfgang, Hess and Darryl Lawrence of the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate spoke to the crowd for more than an hour. The audience filled a stack of note cards with questions. Only a few were answered because of limited time.

Lawrence outlined the approval process for the Transource line and how the public may influence decisions by the state Public Utility Commission.

A person need not be a property owner to have a voice, according to Lawrence. Administrative law judges have liberally interpreted whether a person has standing, or why the person considers this to be his or her business. Hikers and photographers could object to the loss of a beautiful view.

Participation in any PUC public hearing or site visit is critical, he said. The PUC will consider a wide variety of things -- including safety, alternative routes, potential environmental impacts and archaeologic, geologic, historic, scenic or wildness areas.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission must consider the burden on property owners and the public good of the transmission line, according to Lawrence.

The OCA represents Pennsylvania ratepayers, not property owners. The OCA will consider whether the project delivers at least $1.25 in benefits to ratepayers for every dollar invested, according to Lawrence.

Transource has said that the $320 million project will save ratepayers, mainly in the Washington-Baltimore region, $622 million in 15 years. PJM Interconnect, which manages the electrical grid in 13 states, selected the Transource proposal for opening up the metro area to cheaper electricity.

Transource plans to submit its final proposed route to the PUC by the end of the year. PUC typically takes a year to make a decision.

Jan Horst of Marion was one of several people to pick up "Stop the power line" lawn signs after the meeting.

"I'm afraid of stray voltage," Horst said. "If I want to build a building (where the line would run) I would never be able to. And I don't want to look at it. The farm has been in the family since 1818. It's an historic farm."

Transource has changed its proposed route at least once.

Kristyn Martin said she asked Transource at the company's first public meetings to move the path from her three-acre residential property in Quincy Township. At the next meeting she saw the route was shifted to a neighboring farm field.

Martin however is not satisfied. She will live close enough to see, and probably hear, the transmission line. She's worried about potential health impacts and property values.

Martin and her husband had built their house a year ago. They were married in the backyard.

"We intended for that to be our home forever," she said.

This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and Public Opinion Online.

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