Landowners Score Victory Against Electric Company

1/19/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

The tens of thousands of dollars spent by landowners to stop a powerline project in their backyard has apparently paid off.

Two administrative law judges with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission have recommended against authorizing PPL Electric Utilities to use eminent domain to build a 12-mile-long powerline in parts of Northumberland, Snyder and Juniata counties.

The decision was handed down Dec. 19.

“It’s a huge victory. It’s kind of unprecedented to have a victory like that so far,” said Roy Maurer, a Christmas tree farmer in Dalmatia, who was vehemently opposed to the project and organized a group of landowners to fight the electric company in court.

PPL filed an exception to the ruling on Monday, according to Paul Wirth, company spokesman.

Reply exceptions are due next week.

Wirth said the company was disappointed with the ruling, claiming that customers in the area need the powerline and that it would cut down on regular power outages in the area.

“We’re hopeful that the PUC will see the merits of our application and approve it,” Wirth said.

PPL filed an eminent domain petition in Oct. 2011 after failing to come to financial terms with nine of 54 landowners who would have been affected by the construction of the powerline.

The company claims the powerline is necessary to improve safety and reliability in an area notorious for power outages.

PPL initially proposed the $12 million powerline in 2009 and hoped to begin construction later this spring. It would have taken 16 months to complete.

The two judges assigned to the case stated in their “recommended decision” that while PPL made its best effort to minimize possible environmental impacts from the construction of the powerline and that the 12-mile route was “reasonable,” the company failed to prove the powerline was “necessary for the service, accommodation, convenience or safety of the public.”

“PPL has not made the same demonstration of need in this case as other utilities have in other transmission line cases where the commission has found need,” according to case records.

The five-member Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will issue a final decision on the project . However PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said Tuesday that there is no timetable for the commission to make a final decision.

Maurer said the powerline would have cut through four acres of his farm, which would have affected his choose-and-cut Christmas tree business.

He and three other landowners hired an attorney and electrical engineer to argue that the project wasn’t necessary and that the company could have prevented problems by keeping up with maintenance of existing powerlines.

“The powerlines in this area haven’t been kept up with for 15 years,” he said. “They couldn’t prove that they needed the powerline.”

Ron Mace, who leases 50 acres of land to a farmer growing corn and soybeans, called the decision bittersweet, since a lot of money had to be spent to argue against the project.

“I think the PUC made the right decision,” Mace said. “Basically, I think they were taking advantage of us farmers because our land is already clear of trees.”

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