Decision Expected Soon on Controversial Powerline

10/6/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

A decision on a proposed power line that has rankled several farmers in north-central Pennsylvania will likely come by the end of this fall.

A two-day hearing was held in September at the Harrisburg headquarters of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), which is considering PPL Electric Utilities’ request to use eminent domain to build a 12-mile powerline that would cut through three counties and affect more than 50 properties.

PPL proposed the powerline back in 2009. The company claims the powerline, which would connect two existing powerlines on either side of the Susquehanna River in Juniata, Snyder and Northumberland counties, would improve reliability to an area notorious for power outages.

Several public hearings with landowners were held in 2010 and 2011, and the utility said it has changed its route to accommodate environmental and property concerns.

The utility has reached agreements with 45 of 54 affected landowners in the area.

But the remaining landowners have been vehemently opposed to the project, claiming the company is trying to strong-arm them into signing land agreements and that the project would disrupt their farming operations.

Denise McCracken, spokeswoman for the PUC, said this week that an administrative law judge hearing the case would take evidence on the issue until Oct. 17.

McCracken said the judge will likely issue a decision after Oct. 31 and that the five-member PUC would have to approve the utilities’ request at a regularly scheduled hearing.

Paul Wirth, PPL spokesman, said if the company gets its approval, local county courts would have to decide how much the remaining landowners would be compensated for the loss of their land.

“We continue to be open to reaching agreement with these nine landowners. We are still open to a settlement with them,” Wirth said.

Steel poles ranging from 95 to 105 feet in height would carry the 69-kilovolt transmission line through the area.

A 104-by-136-foot substation will also built on two to three acres of land.

The project is estimated to cost $12 million, and Wirth said the company expects to begin construction in May 2013, barring any denial of its bid by PUC. He said it would take about 16 months to complete.

Troy Hess, who owns a tire-recycling facility near Liverpool and rents much of his 300 acres to a neighboring farmer who grows corn and soybeans, said at least 19 acres of his property would be affected by the powerline, including the substation, which would be built there.

Hess said his biggest concern is the proximity of the powerline to an existing well he uses for fire protection.

He said PPL could have gone with a shorter route with fewer bends that still would have affected his property, but would have been farther away from the tire-recycling facility.

“It’s a very dangerous situation that PPL has put our employees and local citizens in. The reality is, they didn’t have to,” Hess said. “PPL is not open to it, they don’t care about our concerns. It’s pretty obvious from their testimony.”

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